Transit housing developments on the rise 

Building housing near mass transit is all the rage, and high occupancy rates of such projects on the Peninsula indicate that current and potential buyers and renters are embracing the trend.

"Transit-oriented development" on the Peninsula is defined as housing that is at least 40 units to the acre dense and less than a third of a mile from Caltrain or BART, according to Rich Napier, executive director of the City/County Association of Governments in San Mateo. It often includes retail and office space as well, which fans herald ascutting down on sprawl; encouraging walking and mass transit use; and being better for the environment.

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Many developers are moving toward this method of housing and several projects along the Caltrain corridor, including Bay Meadows Phase II in San Mateo and the 88 South Broadway project in Millbrae. As further incentive for cities, C/CAG gives government agencies $2,000 per bedroom for projects that meet the criteria, Napier said.

"I think this is a concept that does work," Napier said. "There is no catch-all solution, but we’re finding that it’s a good opportunity to meet a housing need here on the Peninsula."

Applications started pouring in this fall for the 88 South Broadway project in Millbrae, which boasts ground-floor retail space and condominiums ranging in size from 1,300 to 1,900 square feet and costing $800,000 and up, according to the project Web site. Construction crews are putting the finishing touches on the project, which is set to open this year.

While almost every city along the Caltrain corridor has a similar project in the works, only a handful, including The Metropolitan in San Mateo, are occupied. This handful, however, appear to be doing well.

The Metropolitan in San Mateo, a 218-unit for-rent complex, has remained 95 to 98 percent full since it opened in 2004, according to Nancy Whelan, director of property management services for parent company Prometheus’ Northern California operations.

Archstone Apartments at The Crossing in San Bruno similarly has no for-rent vacancies, and only a handful will become available in the next couple months, according to the complex’s Web site.

Kenmark Realty CEO Bruce Russell, whose company has plans for a development in San Bruno, agreed that the housing component of

transit-oriented development seems to be doing quite well. The retail component, however, often can’t survive because there isn’t enough housing density to support such businesses.

"There just has to be enough traffic flow around here, from the development itself or surrounding projects," Russell said.

Median gets pedestrian-friendly facelift

Millbrae, which has been working on the El Camino Real median for months, is set to receive another $160,000 from SamTrans for the extensive project.

The project, part of the city’s Landscape Improvement Project, is another attempt at making the area around Millbrae’s BART station more transit- and pedestrian-friendly.

The city is in the process of making improvements to the median in its section of El Camino — a highway with heavy traffic that — in Millbrae, that has been the scene of a handful of pedestrian accidents.

The San Mateo County Transit District Board of Directors on Thursday is set to approve the funneling of $160,000 in an effort to give El Camino Real an updated, unified look throughout the Peninsula.

Improvements are on tap for lighted crosswalks along the busy thoroughfare. Furthermore, adding some 300 trees along the street is in the works, in an attempt to make the major Peninsula artery appear more like a boulevard.

"It’s designed to beautify that area in Millbrae and make it more accessible for pedestrians," SamTrans spokesman Jonah Weinberg said.

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