Milpitas Metro Specific Plan aims to transform areas around Great Mall, BART Station

Original article published October 29, 2021 by the Milpitas Beat

On Monday, October 25, the City of Milpitas held a virtual Community Open House to introduce to the public the Milpitas Metro Specific Plan (MMSP), an updated version of the Transit Area Specific Plan (TASP) which was adopted by the city in 2008.

A Specific Plan is just one of the many planning tools cities in California use to map out their future. A General Plan, Precise Plan, Master Plan,  Community Plan, and Neighborhood Plan are some others. They all look at a specific geographical area in various levels of detail. A Specific Plan is the most detailed of these plans.

What’s unique about a Specific Plan is that it combines a policy document (ex. goals, policies and programs) with a regulatory document (zoning ordinance). Specific Plans serve as a standalone planning document, replacing the General Plan and citywide zoning ordinance for the Specific Plan area.  

In 2008, the City of Milpitas looked at an area where the future BART station would be located, in the southwest quadrant of the city. At its center is the crossroads of Montague Expressway and Great Mall Parkway, and it includes five adjacent subdistricts: Great Mall, McCandless, Piper, Tango, and the Innovation District.

They saw an opportunity to guide future development away from industrial, auto-oriented neighborhoods to a more vibrant, transit-oriented community, centered around a new transit hub, with connections to light rail and BART. The TASP was born.

Under this new vision, the city planned to add 7,109 new residential units, 287,075 square feet of retail space, and 993,843 square feet of office space, all to be completed by 2020. However, only the increase in residential development was achieved, with 92% of the planned residential units under development by 2019. Parks, shops, and the new Transit Center were also constructed.

Retail space in this region is mainly concentrated at the Great Mall, built on the former site of the Ford assembly plant in 1994. It is the second largest indoor shopping mall in California.

In 2020, the city revisited the TASP and made several changes to adapt to the surging growth of Silicon Valley and surrounding areas. They renamed this modified, 182-page document the Milpitas Metro Specific Plan (MMSP).

The purpose of the October 25 presentation was to share their latest draft  with the community and to give the public a chance to give feedback. On the panel were: Ned Thomas, Planning Director; Kevin Riley, Milpitas Metro Manager; Jane Lin, AIA, Founding Partner of Urban Field Studio; and Erin Tou, Associate Planner at M-Group.

The overarching vision of the MMSP is to create a more complete neighborhood. They hope to achieve this vision through several major design strategies: expanding neighborhood services and the variety of retail, preserving space for jobs near transit, providing affordable and market rate housing, providing safer and more attractive multimodal connections for walking and biking, providing a greater variety of shared public spaces, and enhancing the area with public art.

One of the main goals is to add high density, mixed-use developments to the Great Mall neighborhood, especially near the Transit Center. Another goal is to bring over 1,800,000 square feet of office space to the Innovation District, which entails the annexation of an adjacent San Jose-owned parcel of land.

Creating new, safe connections is another main theme of the MMSP. Pedestrian bridges, bike lanes, parks, and creek trails are planned throughout the area to create a continuous path of travel. There are also several strategies aimed at reducing the number of vehicles, including subsidized transit passes and bringing down Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) through various programs that encourage reduced driving.

Funding for all of this mainly comes from the Transit Area Development Impact Fee (TADIF), which is paid by developers. The TADIF was enacted the same year as the TASP in 2008. Other city fees and grants also contribute. Completion of the final MMSP is scheduled for June 2022. This also includes an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

The city is encouraging public participation in this process, as they have since they began back in March 2020. Community meetings and online open houses have followed each phase of the project, in addition to surveys and interviews with various stakeholders like the Milpitas Chamber of Commerce and Milpitas Unified School District. City council has also given feedback through multiple planning sessions.

Urban planning is a complex beast. If you’ve understood half of this then you’re doing great. At its core is the idea of community, that every voice is valuable. The Open House ended with a handful of questions and feedback from residents of Milpitas, all of which were addressed by the panel in a detailed and respectful manner.

The design team encourages everyone to visit the MMSP website, www.milpitasmetro.org, to learn more about the Draft Metro Plan. As a continuation of the Open House, an online survey will be available through November 8.

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