Baylands site may finally be set for development

Publisher: Baylands site may finally be set for development
Reporter: Emily Fancher

BRISBANE -- At first it seems like a developer's dream: 530 vacant acres in San Mateo County with views of the Bay and San Bruno Mountain.

But on closer inspection, there's a good reason no one has yet developed the Baylands in Brisbane: The toxic legacy left by the Southern Pacific railyard and the city's landfill made this site an environmental mess.

But after years of cleanup and preparatory work, the site might soon be ready for development.

The owner, Universal Paragon Corp., is stepping forward with plans for the Baylands, bordered by Highway 101 to the east, Bayshore Boulevard to the west, Sunnydale and Beatty Avenues to the north and the Brisbane Lagoon to the south.

Bill Chiang, a representative of the project, said the company hopes to submit a specific plan to the city by July for the first phase, covering 330 acres. He said plans call for an outdoor commercial retail center and some office space, with about 110 acres of open space. He said the first phase will only cover the closed landfill, not the contaminated railyard areas.

Holstine said the plan will trigger an environmental impact report that could take up to two years to complete, and a groundbreaking might be up to four years off.

Chiang estimated that Universal Paragon has spent $20 million on cleanup over the last 10 years. The toxics on the site include industrial oil and heavy metals in the soil; also, methane gas is emitted from the landfill.

Many Brisbane residents want the tax revenue and local jobs that developing the site could bring, while others are wary of building on contaminated land.

"This is going to be the biggest change in the history of Brisbane," said resident Karen Evans Cunningham. "This is an incredible opportunity for Brisbane, but we need to be careful how we proceed."

Cunningham said she hopes the city does a thorough job of investigating the site so that residents aren't exposed to toxins or to lawsuits. The city has already held several environmental workshops and plans to hold three more in coming months, including one on May 19.

"Universal Paragon is extremely interested in what the community has to say in the community meetings," said Chiang.

Holstine said the city is gearing up to hire the consultants and staff necessary to handle a project of this magnitude, and the developer will reimburse the city for the costs associated with the project.

Ignacio Dayrit, a consultant for the California Center for Land Recycling, said that though many sites are more contaminated than the Baylands, it is one of the largest toxic sites he's worked on.

"This is a unique site in the type of contamination and also in its potential," said Dayrit. "It's a challenge."

Staff writer Emily Fancher covers Brisbane, Daly City, South San Francisco and Colma. She can be reached at (650) 348-4340 or efancher@sanmateocountytimes.com .