East San Carlos residents pushing back against the proposed Transit Village development around the train station want to make it clear they aren’t necessarily anti-project and certainly not against mass transportation.
"We’re just regular folks who want to preserve our neighborhood. We’re not NIMBYs. We’re the original transit village,” said Dimitri Vandellos, who calls his two-minute walk to the train station "pretty cool.”
But Vandellos and other members of neighborhood group Greater East San Carlos say the proposed Transit Village — a mix of retail space and luxury rental units — is neither the best way to get others on the train or the best addition to the city.
The group has an outstanding list of concerns including noise, parking and shadowing on their homes from the four-story development but GESC President Ben Fuller said the opposition goes beyond individual components like height and density.
"Shade — I can live with some of it,” Fuller said. "But this plan is totally out of scale for the neighborhood and there is too much uncertainty.”
GESC members said they’ve tried meeting with the city, property owner SamTrans and developer Legacy Partners for five years and only did so last week.
SamTrans spokesman Mark Simon said he understands they felt overlooked and made a point to apologize and work on additional meetings in the future. However, he said, SamTrans is not part of the negotiations with Legacy over the actual development and is not in a position to talk about aspects like the environmental impact report or mitigation measures.
Jeff Byrd, senior managing director of Legacy Partners, did not return a call for comment.
GESC members plan to come out in full force Monday night when the San Carlos Planning Commission will consider recommending the City Council certify the project’s final environmental impact report. The Planning Commission could also direct developer Legacy Partners to first make changes. The certification is not a final greenlight on the proposed project but is a big step in that direction. Once certification is done, city leaders can address details of the actual project.
GESC members say the final EIR is deficient, failing to properly address toxins potentially stirred up by the railway or adequately pencil out how more children and cars will affect already crowded schools and roads.
"The core finding of the document is that a development of this size has no significant impact to the neighborhood,” Fuller said.
The final EIR identified eight areas as significant or potentially significant but concluded none were unavoidable.
The GESC, though, doesn’t buy it.
"The EIR is riddled with inaccuracies,” Vandellos said.
Paul Magginetti, who has done researched toxins and an arsenic-based herbicide used on the 100-year railroad, wondered if the consultants who put together the final EIR did more than cursory work and said the data must be solid before the city even considers the actual project.
"I just want to have some trust that the information in the EIR is accurate,” Magginetti said.
As currently proposed, the transit village plan would convert a 10.53-acre strip of land within the existing Caltrain station and running parallel to the railroad corridor. Legacy’s proposal envisions eight four-story buildings with 281 housing units among a mix of 407,298 square feet of residential, 23,797 square feet of office space and 14,326 square feet of retail space. The project would also include 667 parking spaces and a new SamTrans Transit Center on 4.29 acres.
Fuller said he understands the developer may be reluctant to change the plan because it wants to make money but that the GESC’s line in the sand is height. The project can be three stories but four is just too much, he said.
The final EIR suggests two alternative plans, one that would result in 40 fewer residential units and another that would reduce the height and bulk of buildings and increase the space between them. The financial feasibility of the first is unknown and the second is unfit because it doesn’t comply with building codes and is a difficult design, the final EIR states.
But before the developer buttons down details of the project, Fuller said the community needs a level of assurance that their concerns are incorporated and their property values protected.
The group also wants some assurances that eminent domain won’t be used on Old County Road to accommodate high-speed rail.
SamTrans and Caltrain are convinced they can do any work needed for electrification or passing tracks without significant impact on Old County Road, Simon said.
Simon also said that the state does not have the authority on the Caltrain right-of-way.
The San Carlos Planning Commission meets 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 1 at City Hall, 600 Elm St., San Carlos.
Michelle Durand can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.