427-Unit San Bruno Residential Project Receives Revamp After City Rejection

San Bruno, Mills Park, G.W. Williams, Signature Development Group
Rendering Courtesy of the City of San Bruno

By Meghan Hall

A large-scale residential proposal in San Bruno is working its way through the entitlements pipeline after a 2-1 motion by the City Council last summer blocked the project from moving forward. In March, property owner G.W. Williams resubmitted plans for the Mills Park Project, which would bring 427 residential units to El Camino Real and San Bruno Ave. The proposal includes several major changes, the result of numerous consultations with both City officials and the greater San Bruno community.

Originally, the proposal for the Mills Park Project was submitted by Oakland-based Signature Development Group. Recently, G.W. Williams Company, the property owner, has taken over as the applicant for the development company. G.W. Williams has owned the property for more than 70 years and was the original developer of the Mills Park Commercial Center and surrounding residential subdivisions in the 1940s.

The initial project proposal went before the City Council for action in July of 2019; however, at the time of the vote two council members recused themselves from the decision-making process, leaving only three Councilmembers eligible to vote on the motion to approve the project. State law requires that a minimum of three members vote in favor of a project for approval to pass, and after a lengthy hearing, the project did not receive unanimous support and could not move forward.

The newly submitted proposal retains the overall massing, size height and location of the original project. However, the 42,000 square foot high-end grocery store originally part of the plans has been scrapped and will largely be replaced by 669 parking spaces. 7,560 square feet of commercial space will remain. While its use is undetermined, it will be permitted to accommodate a variety of general retail sales, eating or drinking establishments, fitness uses or offices. Two residential units were also added to Building A for 184 total units. Building B will have 243 units. 65 affordable units, an increase of one, will be included in the ground plans.

The affordable housing element is something that the City of San Bruno is emphasizing as it moves forward with evaluating the plans.

“Affordable housing is a real benefit for the City,” explained San Bruno’s Community and Economic Director, Darcy Smith. “Traditionally, we have not always had developers elect to provide on-site units. This project is something that is needed to satisfy our regional housing needs allocation, and traditionally we have fallen far short in that area.”

The affordable units will be income-restricted for a period of 55 years, added Smith.

In addition, G.W. Williams Company has agreed to a number of public benefits, ones that have proven to be important to the city in recent months. G.W. Williams has guaranteed a $10 million community benefit payment to the City’s General Fund, doubling the former $5 million base benefit in the original proposal. G.W. Williams has also agreed to a $100,000 direct payment to the City to support bike and pedestrian improvements and an additional $100,000 for parking improvements.

“Especially in light of city revenues declining from various different sources because of the COVID-19 crisis, these payments provide a versatile source of funds for the city,” added Smith. “Although the reality is we will not get that money until next year, because it is paid at the time of permit issuance, it at least gives the city something to help in the years to come.”

Currently, City staff is working on reviewing the submitting plans as part of an effort to determine its compliance with local code requirements and is revising the Development Agreement. Two public comments meetings have taken place in May since new project plans were submitted, with many of the comments submitted in favor of the project. Some also expressed concerns that are typical to many projects in the Bay Area regarding appropriate density and parking.

City officials are looking to schedule a public hearing this summer. If the project is approved, Building A will begin construction in 2022 and Building B will follow in 2023. Despite COVID-19, Smith predicts that demand for housing will remain high enough for G.W. Williams to move forward with construction.

“We still have a lot of jobs relative to the amount of housing units,” said Smith. “San Bruno is near a diversified variety of job market and therefore that diversity means there will be job growth, which will induce demand for housing…This is a project that will be built over many years so as we look toward recovery, an area like the Peninsula will remain strong in terms of housing demand.”

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