By Meghan Hall
Changes are coming to nearly four acres near the Millbrae BART and CalTrain stations thanks to a new land agreement allowing development to take place. Last week, the City of Millbrae announced a deal with the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, which will return several parcels of land parcels to the City. With land in hand, the City can move forward with a number of developments in the works for downtown, including the 488-unit Serra Station project. Officials hope that the agreement will catalyze further development in and around downtown Millbrae.
“This is terrific news and an important milestone for both the City and BART,” said Millbrae Mayor Ann Schneider in a statement. “New housing and a premier development on the transit corridor is one step closer to becoming a reality.”
The deal will return land to Millbrae that Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) had been holding, and which it intended to use for its San Francisco International extension project.
Now that Millbrae has obtained the land, a number of projects can proceed with entitlements or construction. The re-conveyance of the parcels will permit the realignment of California Drive and will make way for Serra Station. The project, approved after years of negotiations, will bring 488 residential units to downtown. 15 percent of those units will be affordable, and units will range from about 600 square feet to 1,200 square feet in size. The housing will also be supported by 320,000 square feet of commercial space, including offices and retail.
About 0.85 acres will be used to build the new California Drive and additional transit uses. The road will be extended and include two travel and two bike lanes in each direction from the southern portion of the project limits at Linden Avenue through to the El Camino Real.
The deal will also allow the City of Millbrae to pursue and develop a new, transit-oriented project adjacent to BART and Serra Station. Millbrae officials intend to consolidate several City-owned parcels and solicit proposals from developers to build next to Millbrae Serra Station. About 1.2 acres of land will remain for redevelopment, and the City will issue a request for proposals in the coming weeks.
The agreement between BART and the City of Millbrae also allows locals to move forward with another endeavor: undergrounding the planned California High Speed Rail. The path of the High Speed rail is anticipated to cut through downtown Millbrae, according to City Officials. If it moves forward as is, city leaders have stated that it would take up “prime real estate” in downtown Millbrae, property which could be better allocated towards housing or commercial development.
“With control of this land Millbrae will continue working with our congressional and state representatives to obtain an estimated $165 million in funding designated for developing significant regional projects, which includes undergrounding the High Speed Rail station,” stated Millbrae Councilmember Gina Papan.
The City of Millbrae has already filed documents stating that the California High Speed Rail Authority’s (HSRA) environmental impact report violates CEQA laws. The draft environmental impact report was originally released in July of 2020.
“Essentially, California High Speed Rails plans are to pave paradise and put up a parking lot, just like the Joni Mitchell song,” said Millbrae City Councilmember Wayne Lee in October of 2020, when the City of Millbrae filed its objection. “We will fight them tooth and nail over their presented EIR. They should be working with Millbrae to make transit-oriented development and housing a reality. Instead, they are trying to railroad their project through with no concern for residents, approved housing, or the future of our wonderful city.”
Under HSRA’s environmental impact report, plans for Serra Station would be scrapped, and the property would be then allocated to a surface parking lot for rail passengers. In its documents, the Authority presents the Millbrae site for its potential to be a major transportation hub that works in conjunction with both the nearby BART and CalTrain stations. The goal of the High Speed rail station is to “promote economic development, encourage station area development, and enhance connectivity to other modes of transportation,” according to its website. In the coming months, both HSRA and Millbrae will work on coming to an agreement to ensure those goals long-term.