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Transit-Oriented Development Changing How Oakland Grows

When it comes to the future of Oakland, a good amount of the development that will change the city has one thing in common: the transit station nearby.

Transit-Oriented Development Changing How Oakland Grows
Lubin Olson's Bob Miller, Brookfield Residential's Josh Roden, UrbanCore Development CEO Michael Johnson, Bellwether Enterprise's John Ghio, Lowney Architecture's Anthony Cataldo and Emerald Fund's Marc Babsin

Bay Area Rapid Transit has committed to an ambitious plan to build mixed-use transit-oriented developments around its stations throughout the Bay Area, and a number of those projects will be in Oakland.

Already, the transit authority has started to transform land around MacArthur Station in the northern part of the city as well as Fruitvale Station to the southeast. Construction is underway on Coliseum Transit Village from UrbanCore Development and Oakland Economic Development Corp.

Future plans call for continued development on those sites and projects to go up around downtown BART stations.

BART's transit-oriented development policy states that the agency will only move forward with future developments in cities that have adopted station area plans, and Oakland has been at the forefront, BART's Sean Brooks said. Brooks, the department manager of real estate and property development for BART, will speak about TODs at Bisnow's The Evolution of Downtown Oakland March 13.

Projects already underway have required upzoning, and the city also has been progressive about parking requirements, Brooks said.

"The city has kind of bent over backwards to help and advance some of these projects," he said.

Case in point: the planned development for West Oakland, which got through the planning commission in record time, he said. The project was helped along in no small part because of the affordable housing it is bringing to the city.

Each of BART's TODs with housing have at least 25% of their units designated as affordable, with a systemwide goal of 35%, Brooks said. BART plans to add 7,000 affordable housing units to the Bay Area by 2040 under its plan.

"Including [affordable housing] on our property, it helps at least in some respects really ensure those most vulnerable to being priced out have the opportunity to live around transit," Brooks said, adding those are the residents most likely to depend on transit as well.

BART's Sean Brooks
BART's Sean Brooks

Brooks said city leaders and communities understand the need for TODs in ways they didn't 10 to 15 years ago. There is an appetite now to upzone properties and make higher, denser developments a reality. Brooks said he has noted the shift from NIMBYism to YIMBYism.

The welcoming of TODs marks new opportunities for growing Oakland.

"Oakland is really emerging as a vibrant work-play environment," CoStar Market Economist Jesse Gundersheim said. "TOD development really helps that effort."

Having these mixed-use projects around transit helps to attract the younger generation, feeding into the desire of millennials to have access to the Bay Area, he said. It lets them access job centers in San Francisco without having to deal with vehicular traffic.

It is not just millennials who benefit. Gundersheim said there is a strong influx of retirees moving into Oakland who would also see positive impact from living near a transit stop for continued access around the area as they age.

JRDV Urban International principal Ed McFarlan
JRDV Urban International principal Ed McFarlan

JRDV Urban International has been involved in planning work in Oakland, including the West Oakland specific plan and the Coliseum district, which both focused on creating dense TOD districts around BART stations, principal Ed McFarlan said.

McFarlan, who will also speak at Bisnow's Oakland event, said the idea of transit-oriented development should shift to become a discussion of transit-oriented districts that are a part of larger-scale community planning. Such districts need to become part of the future for the East Bay and Oakland, he said.

Transit is one of Oakland's great assets, McFarlan said. Projects around transit, by being denser and facing the challenges that arise building around transit infrastructure, are high-cost and complicated, so there have to be ways to add value to be successful and command higher rents, he said.

"We're trying to create transformational projects. Oakland is a city that needs that, that wants that," he said. "It's at a moment in time that it's evolving into its future and needs to evolve into a really good future that incentivizes growth, but also incentivizes equity."

TODs need to be the right combination of live-work, retail and public spaces. Transit stops are often not good urban places to draw in retail and people, so these districts need to be reimagined to do just that, he said.

Rendering of the proposed mixed-use development for the Lake Merritt BART station site
Rendering of the proposed mixed-use development for the Lake Merritt BART station site

BART has six goals in its TOD program:

  • Creating communities with a mix of uses and public improvements.
  • Creating housing and jobs in sustainable communities next to transit.
  • Increasing BART ridership.
  • Increasing property values that result in increased ground-lease revenue and fees for BART.
  • Providing more transit options for Bay Area residents.
  • Increasing affordable housing.

For BART, this mix of uses mean increased ridership outside of rush hour.

There is a dead zone of transit activity from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. that could be bolstered by creating TODs that can draw people in while supplying the services residents and office workers need, such as grocery stores, day care or healthcare offices, Brooks said.

Having housing in the mix also allows more people to enter the BART system later in the day, since residents in the TOD can walk or bike over rather than rushing to get there early and secure a parking space.

As Brooks has pointed out, BART has an opportunity in Oakland and elsewhere in the East Bay to build offices near stations that can draw residents of San Francisco out for a reverse commute. That puts more commuters on those East Bay-bound trains in the mornings when most of the riders are heading into San Francisco. With more companies looking at the East Bay as a less expensive place to locate their offices (and near more affordable housing for employees), the addition of office makes sense.

The requests for proposals for the West Oakland and Lake Merritt projects both directly required office development, Brooks said. People are less willing to walk from a BART station to work than they are to walk home, so most office needs to be with in a quarter mile of the station to be viable, something the West Oakland and Lake Merritt sites both meet, he said.

In September, the BART board of directors approved a project from a JV of East Bay Asian Local Development Corp. and Strada Investment Group for the Lake Merritt station, a mixed-use, mixed-income, high-rise development. The proposal calls for four new buildings with 519 apartments (44% of which would be affordable) and 517K SF of office and retail.

West Oakland Innovation Hub
Rendering of the West Oakland Innovation Hub

McFarlan said the West Oakland BART station site, which is being developed by Strategic Urban Development Alliance and China Harbour Engineering Co., is critical to setting the intention for the whole district. Not only will it bring in housing and office, but also unique, destination retail with a strong emphasis on the existing arts community in the area. The idea is to make it a gateway into Oakland — somewhere that travelers will stop to shop or dine even if they don't live or work near that stop.

"Design is value creation," McFarlan said. "It has to do with how to create program mixes that bring something new to the market."

It is important for Oakland to increase its daytime occupancy, Gundersheim said.

"Increasing the vibrancy during the day, getting the population to flow into downtown Oakland during the daytime, will really round out the city emerging into a 24/7 city that people want to live in," he said.

By developing new office space that caters toward tech tenants that attract younger workers and other office-using businesses, Oakland will provide more local work options for residents and increase that daytime density, he said.

Brooks said Oakland is central to BART's core system and home to all of the transit agency's transfer stations. As the third-largest city in the Bay Area, Oakland creates a tremendous opportunity to be part of the regional solutions for housing and employment, he said.

"Development in Oakland just makes sense fiscally, environmentally, and for a wealth of other reasons," Brooks wrote in an email. "By investing/building in Oakland, it allows people who want to stay in the area to live in the area. ... As more housing units and office product comes on board in/around [our] stations, we are hopeful that more people can live, work, and play closer to their residences which will reduce traffic, congestion and really provide an enhanced quality of life."

Hear more on transit-oriented development and the latest going on in downtown Oakland at Bisnow's The Evolution of Downtown Oakland March 13 at the Scottish Rite Center.