Millbrae development passes

Officials narrowly approve housing, office, retail project near rail station despite lingering concerns

By Austin Walsh Daily Journal staff

Mar 15, 2018

It’s full speed ahead for a sweeping housing and commercial development proposed to transform BART land at the Millbrae train station, following officials blessing the divisive project.

The Millbrae City Council voted 3-2, with Mayor Gina Papan and Councilman Wayne Lee dissenting, to narrowly approve the Gateway at Millbrae Station during a meeting spanning into the early hours of Wednesday, March 14.

Before a large crowd of residents, housing advocates, project critics and many more, officials embraced the proposal comprised of 150,000 square feet of offices, nearly 30,000 square feet of retail space, 400 new housing units and a hotel abutting the city’s train station.

The decision is a landmark one for the city, completing years of discussions, planning and policy development aiming to craft the area near the intersection of Millbrae Avenue and El Camino Real into a thriving hub of transit-oriented development.

Michael Van Every, president and CEO of development firm Republic Family of Companies, plainly stated his company’s position on the proposal initially formulated nearly five years ago.

“We believe this is the best project for this area,” he told councilmembers, amidst the hourslong deliberation prior to officials taking action.

Many held opposing views on the project though, primarily those who believed officials should hold off on approving the project in favor of negotiating a more lucrative development agreement for the city.

Dozens of critics called for amended project plans to include more retail space, less housing density, greater financial contributions from the developer, better traffic calming measures, a higher quality hotel and increased consideration for the local school district.

Those concerns were shared by Papan, who has long criticized the project for not generating enough revenue or other perks for the local community.

“This current arrangement, I don’t think it benefits Millbrae,” she said.

Criticisms, expressed by community members or officials, were met with enthusiastic applause by residents sporting brown hats declaring “Better Millbrae,” and waving signs and banners expressing dissatisfaction with the project.

Counter perspectives were lauded by housing advocates, real estate professionals and others calling for project approval as a means of combating the local affordability crisis.

“We desperately need housing, and this is the ideal location for 400 units,” said Gina Zari, spokeswoman for the San Mateo County Association of Realtors.

Of the housing units, 80 are proposed in a standalone project to be constructed nearby and reserved for military veterans.

Following a negotiation from the dais led by Councilman Reuben Holober, Van Every committed to adding 20 more affordable units priced at a moderate rate to be built into the market rate project.

Holober also talked Van Every into contributing an additional $880,000 to the city’s Community Center rebuild fund, raising the sum to $2.8 million and matching the city’s payment toward development of the affordable units.

Van Every has claimed the city’s contribution is essential to financing the affordable project, as it unlocks a complex series of tax credits and public money required for the project to pencil out.