The only problem I had with the Alum Rock Area Developer Round Table, held on April 25, 2016 at city hall, was the name. It really should have been called the 28th Street Area Developer Round Table. Other than that, I felt it was very, very successful gathering.
After being presented with a overview by city staff of the financial and developmental history of the area and a quick introduction to the community’s desires by neighborhood leader Terry Christensen, we took a narrated bus tour of the area around the proposed BART station at 28th Street, looking at the many potential development sites.
After we returned to city hall, it was the developer’s turn. As individuals and as a team, they discussed their reactions to the site and their feelings about the potential development. The feedback was divided into two time frames; Pre-BART and Post-BART.
Prior to the actual development of the BART station, major development doesn’t seem to be on the table from the perspective of the developers who attended the gathering. As a guideline, they stated they would need a three acre space for a major build out. Since VTA’s current station plans are only about 10%, they can’t even begin to design anything around the station itself. However, they also felt that the area needs to evolve its focus, to begin to prove itself as a candidate for a major project.
Speak to developers who focus on smaller projects
The many small sites in the area might be valuable for developers of 20-25 unit projects. There simply isn’t much support for near term high rise projects at this time. However, 15-20 unit town-homes would be attractive to millennials who work downtown and can take advantage of the bus and BRT services.
Access to Santa Clara street is critical
By this, they were referring to the fact that the main BART station site at 28th St. feels more like it is a mid-block site, between Julian and Santa Clara, and not a site connected to Santa Clara St.
One suggestion was the removal of the Five Wounds Portuguese National Parish’s parking lot, to improve the sight lines and the walk-ability between Santa Clara street and the internal area. The idea would be to replace it with shared parking at one of the adjacent locations. For example, the city presented a site access map that showed that people would be able to walk north across 101 on McKee as far as Food Bowl in the same time frame that walking south would take them to the beginning of the Santa Clara bridge across 101. This appears to be caused by the need to circumvent the entire church property, instead of being able to walk through it.
Upgrade the walk-ability
Improve the look / feel of the area around Santa Clara and 28th Street.
We need to get moving on the Five Wounds trail, north of Santa Clara St., including the adjustment to the visual alignment of the properties along 27th St. to get more “eyes on the trail”. Simply making the area look cleaner, safer and more attractive to visitors would be a great first step.
The BRT construction needs to be completed, allowing VTA to get rid of all that construction equipment stored on the trail. Also, VTA needs to find another location for their BART station/tunnel construction equipment, allowing us to complete the Five Wounds Trail south of Santa Clara St.
Make the area more interesting to visit
This is where my ears perked up! They noted that traditionally BART stations are not necessarily seen as places where people tend hang out. We need to start building something more accommodating of active uses.
They suggested moving forward with changing the use of the land, from its current low density, light industrial focus to something more people focused. One thought thrown on the table was taking the building that houses Monarch Trucking and use it for a Maker Community. No major capital expenditure would be required, just interior remodeling to meet the new needs.
There were also some comments about looking at what worked and didn’t work for San Pedro Square and building on its example. The idea would be to find people friendly businesses that would not need a large capital investments to occupy the area until the development of the station forced major changes.
Help with the Permitting Process
There was a chorus of agreement among the developers to a suggestion that the city move forward with an EIR for the Urban Villages. This program level EIR would supply up front approval for the mix of uses that are proposed. That would simplify the permit process for any new businesses that wanted to move into the site, allowing them to simply complete a check-list showing that they complied.
There weren’t as many Post-BART ideas thrown on the table. There was a side discussion about going outside the area for a large developer who would literally build everything as one project, including the station. If VTA builds the station box, there would be a two to four story limit on the height of any building above it. A private developer could change that.
Also, in one discussion it was suggested that the focus for the site should include a lot of community services, to draw more people to visit things other than BART. This will take some thought, given that we already have the new medical center at 17th St., the Roosevelt Community Center at 20th St., the Carnegie Library at 23rd St. and the Mexican Heritage Plaza at King. However, it is something that should be carefully considered.
I found the discussion to be invaluable and very educational. Over the past sixteen years, my wife and I been involved in multiple efforts to review the opportunities available at the 28th St. BART station location, leading up to the four current Urban Village plans and the current VTA Community Working Group. All of them were from the perspective of the neighborhoods, local businesses and various government agencies. I found it very interesting to hear an analysis of those opportunities from the point of view of the development community.
I was also relieved to hear the many positive comments about the long term viability of our concepts. There appeared to be no nay-Sayers in the room. The only negative was related to building high rise projects in the near term, before the development of the BART station.
Those of us who have been working on this project for a long time need to realize that the developers are our target customers. We really need to understand what their needs are as we move forward, for we cannot succeed without them.