Rendering of the proposed Transit Village in San Carlos.
San Carlos councilmembers heard hours of concern from east side residents about plans for a mixed-use development around the train station but put off a decision on the project's environmental review until a future meeting.
The delay pushes the Transit Village project into a third meeting, just shy of the number of gatherings required by the Planning Commission last year before it certified the environmental impact report. But the council said the late hour and abundance of testimony led them to prefer not rushing a vote. However, before adjourning the council did ask questions about how the project would affect the city's small town feel, impact visual elements and comply with the general plan.
"So even if the EIR is technically correct, it could just feel right or feel wrong?” asked Councilman Ron Collins.
The answer, according to the city's EIR expert, was yes.
But Mayor Matt Grocott asked what the point of going forward was if the report doesn't address existing issues like traffic on Holly Street other than suggest paying into a future fund.
"Why the hell go through an EIR process if we know we have an environmental problem already there?” he asked.
If the City Council ultimately concludes the EIR is complete, the project heads back to the Planning Commission for discussion of its actual merits.
As currently proposed by Foster City-based developer Legacy Partners, 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.
The meeting was the City Council's second swipe at the Transit Village, having spent several hours last month hearing from experts on topics like noise, height, traffic and toxins. Last night, public speakers tackled the same issues with many voicing concern about how the project will impact the city's east side.
The number of housing units proposed is more than half of the 500 existing homes in the neighborhood, said Ben Fuller of the Greater East San Carlos group.
The GESC argues the building heights are inappropriate next to the neighborhood and train noise will escalate. Other concerns include traffic increases, parking, shadowing and the future Caltrain electrification and high-speed rail encroaching on their property and Old County Road.
The question at hand right now is not whether the planned luxury rental and retail complex is a good fit for the area around the existing train station but if the environmental analysis of the project is sufficient. The Planning Commission last year held four meetings before reluctantly voting yes unanimously. However, the vote only came after several members added caveats about where they wanted more mitigation or evaluation.
Fuller asked the City Council to do what he said the Planning Commission did not by certifying the EIR.
"It looks like it's up to you guys ... to try to mitigate these impacts,” he said.
Fellow GESC member Fangwei Lee called the EIR "impractical” and "inapplicable” because it compares San Carlos to Union City and San Jose which is like comparing apples to oranges in terms of housing prices, occupations and other dynamics. He also questioned the conclusions about sound although city staff earlier concluded that the project's potential to reflect train noise can't be considered a significant impact because it already exists and is caused by transportation rather than the development itself.
Not everyone who spoke last night was against the project's review. A Sierra Club representative urged the City Council to certify the document but also unbundle parking from the housing units, include 15 percent of the units as below market rate and approve a table of mitigation measures.
The Planning Commission recommended the City Council impose 13 improvement measures to help mitigate the possible impacts, including that the developer prepare a landscape design plan for the vacant railroad corridor property, contribute funding toward a residential parking permit program and more thoroughly study noise before and after construction. The council could let those measures stand or add or subtract them.
But GESC member Dimitri Vandellos said there was an easy solution to easing any impacts.
"Everything is mitigated by reducing the size and the scope of the project,” he said.
Michelle Durand can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.