Millbrae downtown plan hits wall

A 10-year-old, $250 million plan to rejuvenate downtown Millbrae is being held up by property owners who do not want to sell their land for development around the city’s BART/Caltrain station.

The Site One redevelopment is the largest construction project between San Francisco and San Jose, said developer Dan Rogers, a member of the development team assembling the land. It would bring in 550,000 square feet of mixed-use property, including 231 condominiums and 105,000 square feet of retail and restaurants downtown, plus additional buildings.

For the renovation to happen, however, developers need to purchase two-thirds of the businesses’ land in the area — but they currently have 40 percent, Rogers said. The owner of the largest piece of land in the area is holding up the development by refusing to sell. Developers and city staff refused to release the name of the property.

The second-largest property, Millbrae Lumber Co., is one of four businesses that have agreed to sell, while six have not, Rogers said. Other businesses include numerous restaurants, two auto-parts shops and Serra Convalescent Home.

If property owners still refuse to sell, the Redevelopment Agency has the power to use eminent domain to force them out, said Community Development Director Ralph Petty.

“Nobody’s agreed to use[eminent domain],” Petty said. “It’s a power we have, and under the right circumstances we could consider doing it.”

Rogers is confident he will either acquire the large property or assemble a few smaller parcels “in the near future” to push the team above the threshold to begin building. Construction should begin in spring 2009 and take two years, he said.

In total, the developers are assembling eight acres and developing on five, with the rest to be utilized for public areas, such as a station square. The group was given four more months to acquire the land at a Sept. 25 City Council meeting, the third and final time their contract was extended.

The plan also includes a 131-room hotel, a six-screen art house cinema, 40,000 square feet of offices, increased pedestrian areas and a 900-space, two-story underground parking area.

The project area is bordered by El Camino Real to the west, to-be-extended California Drive to the east, Millbrae Avenue to the south and to-be-extended Victoria Avenue to the north. The city secured a $432,000 grant from SamTrans Tuesday for construction of the Victoria Crossing across the extended portion of California Drive.

The development should also help residents and tourists coming in from the station connect to the surrounding shops and condominiums in the area because of the new pedestrian crossings, said Mayor Marc Hershman. He added that drivers will be able to pull off El Camino Real to drop off passengers for the station because of the new pedestrian crossings.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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