Land acquisition slows development 

Plans to transform the area around the Millbrae BART/Caltrain station into a bustling, pedestrian-friendly transit hub rely heavily on the redevelopment of one 5-acre parcel, a project that’s moving along slowly but surely.

The parcel on the west side of the station, dubbed Site One, now includes Peter’s Café and Millbrae Lumber but is expected to become the site of a $200 million project incorporating retail, housing and most likely a cinema.

It is just one portion of a 13-parcel, 47.3-acre area plan approved in 1998 in anticipation of the BART/Caltrain hub that opened in 2003. Development in the area has been designated as a high priority by city officials in coming years, particularly as BART ridership at the Millbrae station continues to increase.

Irvine-based Fancher Partners, the company slated to build the Site One development, has effectively acquired Millbrae Lumber, one of the 10 properties within the site, but is still working on the others.

The land acquisition is proving to be a formidable task, as there is some disagreement on how much the owners of the properties should be paid, even though the owners have been very amenable to the buyout, Community Development Director Ralph Petty said.

"Any urban assembly is difficult," Petty said.

The company, which has exclusive rights to develop the site, has until the beginning of May to make a show of good faith that progress is being made.

Developer Chuck Fancher said his company is working out the economic feasibility of all the options and he fully expects to have a plan ready for the city by the summer. By then, the firm must prove it has a financial partner in the deal, have a preliminary project plan ready and make substantial headway on purchasing most of the outstanding properties on the site.

If time starts running out, Petty said the city could use eminent domain to buy the properties and then sell them to the developer.

"Cities are very circumspect when they use eminent domain," Petty said, noting that it is very hard for governments to acquire private properties for private use.

With the continued increase in commuter traffic, plans are still in progress to build office space or even a hotel above the surface parking lots at the station, Petty said.

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