Bay Meadows Suit Won't Stop Project

Bay Meadows Suit Won't Stop Project
Photo: Vassar Photography
Surf Town won the final race on closing day of the 2008 Bay Meadows meet.
Bay Meadows developers plan to move ahead with its demolition schedule in spite of a pending Oct. 10 court hearing on a lawsuit by a group trying to preserve the track, a senior planner for the city of San Mateo said June 25.

Bay Meadows Land Company plans to close the racetrack Sept. 1 to begin revamping the site for a mixed use development. Demolition of the grandstand, barn area (located on the track infield) and other buildings could occur after that. Racing is expected to conclude at the 74-year-old track with the end of the two-week San Mateo County Fair meet Aug. 17.

"The developer has the permits to begin the project September 1 and since the Friends (of Bay Meadows) did not file a request for a preliminary injunction, they plan to go ahead as scheduled," said Darcy Forsell of the San Mateo city planning department. "There is an element of risk in that. But I don't believe they were planning to bring out the wrecking ball on September 1. There will still be horses on the grounds at that time and there is quite a bit of re-mediation work to be done on the building, asbestos removal, that sort of thing. They told me that none of the really heavy demolition will begin until mid-October, anyway."

The San Mateo County Superior Court hearing was granted June 24 to consider the petition brought by the Friends of Bay Meadows against real estate developer Stockbridge Capital Partners (parent of Bay Meadows Land Company) and the city. The group supporting the track contends that there have been significant changes in the proposed traffic plan accompanying the 83.5-acre redevelopment project since the original environmental impact report was approved by the city in 2005.

Linda Schinkel, spokesperson for the Friends of Bay Meadows, said she believed that developers would be "taking a big economic risk" by proceeding with plans in the event her group prevails in court and is able to prevent the project from proceeding.

But Forsell said that BMLC has all the city permits and site plan approvals it is required to have and has no legal obligation to wait for the court hearing unless an injunction is issued.

The Friends of Bay Meadows contends that elimination of two of the three originally approved underpasses that were to serve the neighborhood of the project and an expected  delay in the building of a train station by the cash-strapped state until at least 2014 constitute a significant enough burden to traffic flow to require a new environmental assessment of the current plan.

In addition to challenging transportation issues, the petition also seeks to preserve the racetrack based on its historical importance.

Forsell said that expert consultants hired by the city found that there have been many changes to the original Bay Meadows grandstand over the years "and it did not qualify for historical protection."

Schinkel, whose group filed the lawsuit May 20, said she was encouraged by the court's willingness to hear argument.

"We might get lucky," she said. "There are enough people here that really feel that we are best served by keeping this site a functioning racetrack."

This is the second suit filed by the Friends of Bay Meadows in this ongoing dispute. The group had earlier tried to qualify a city referendum opposing the city council's 2005 approval of the project but was rebuffed by the city and county registrars who disqualified a large number of signatures that were gathered. The lower court ruled against the challenge to election officials and the ruling was upheld by the state Court of Appeals.

The Bay Meadows redevelopment plan calls for an estimated 1,067 new residential units, 750,000 square feet of commercial space and 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

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