Train may derail downtown plan

The $250 million revamp to downtown Millbrae is being threatened by the high-speed train that could go through the city’s BART/Caltrain station.

The city’s proposed development dubbed Site One, which would add condominiums, shops, offices, a movie theater and more around the station, would be impeded by the proposed project, Community Development Director Ralph Petty said.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has proposed a four-track alignment that would allow its proposed high-speed train to pass through, but Millbrae wants to keep the station at its current two-track alignment. The high-speed train would cost $40 billion and pass through the Bay Area between Sacramento and San Diego if approved by voters in November 2008, Rail Authority Executive Director Mehdi Morshed said.

The proposed alignment, parking structure and security fencing would impede on redevelopment space, cause environmental impacts and hurt developer’s chances of acquiring investments, Petty said. Because the Rail Authority has superior power of eminent domain over the city, if a compromise cannot be worked out, the city would have to rethink its plans and possibly scrap them altogether, he said.

Millbrae has been working on its redevelopment plan for 10 years and appears ready to begin construction in 2009. Ironically, the city may have to use eminent domain to buy out the businesses in the redevelopment area if property owners do not agree to sell their shops.

The city sent a letter last week to the Rail Authority asking it to reconsider its current plans. In it, a consultant to the city complains that the city reached an agreement in 1999 and 2001 with Caltrain and SamTrans, which said that the high-speed train project would not jeopardize their redevelopment plans. The city also accused the Rail Authority ofnot properly coordinating with Caltrain and BART on the project.

The Rail Authority is in the process of hearing comments from cities with stations, Morshed said. The group is not even certain yet whether the Millbrae station would be on the train’s route, he said.

“If it’s established that the train will go through there, then we’d work out with the city, the community and landowners in a cooperative way to come up with a mutually beneficial solution,” Morshed said.

Caltrain has plans to expand to a four-track system throughout areas of the Peninsula regardless of the high-speed train, said spokesman Jonah Weinberg. Its plans should not affect the redevelopment, though, because Caltrain would only expand on its own property, he said.

Best-laid plans

Millbrae’s redevelopment plans around its BART/Caltrain station could be in jeopardy.

» Eight acres of land, with development on five acres

» 231 condominiums

» 105,000 square feet of retail

» A 131-room hotel

» A six-screen art house cinema

» 40,000 square feet of office

» A 900-space, two-story underground parking garage

– Source: City of Millbrae

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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