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Why TOD Is Taking Off In The East Bay

Why TOD Is Taking Off In The East Bay
Warm Springs/South Fremont BART Woonerf

With San Francisco's job growth still greatly outpacing housing production and the Bay Area's share of the nation's super commuters growing, transit-oriented development will be part of the solution to the region's housing crisis.

But how TOD projects (defined by BART as "well-designed, mixed-use, higher-density development adjacent to frequent transit") are actually designed is key, according to architects and builders of some of the East Bay's notable TOD developments.

Put simply, a project needs to offer more than just being half-a-mile away from a BART station for residents to reliably use the transit system.

"You want to have a clear path to transit from your site to make it transit-oriented," said Lowney Architecture Chief Operating Officer Anthony Cataldo, one of many architects and developers speaking at Bisnow's Oakland & East Bay Multifamily event Aug. 29.  

Lowney has led the design of multiple TOD projects, including a 223-unit community across from El Cerrito's BART station, and also did the initial concept design for Panoramic Interests' massive, 1,032-unit development at 500 Kirkham St. in Oakland, which will go before the city's planning commission next week.

The West Oakland project in particular might best represent the East Bay CRE's growing focus on the use of public transit. Despite featuring over 1,000 homes, it has designs for only 59 parking spaces — still more than the eight it called for in initial proposals, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Why TOD Is Taking Off In The East Bay
Rendering of the 223-unit Mayfair project in El Cerrito

And in addition to the environmental and traffic-mitigation appeal, less parking also means better pro formas for developers, Cataldo points out. 

"When you can go downstairs and walk less than half-a-mile to get on BART or the bus or call an Uber, the need for a car become less critical," Cataldo said. "The builder can pass on cost savings to the tenant because parking garages are not cheap."

When city code mandates more parking than is ideal with TOD, Lowney has opted to do ground-level parking supplemented with parking stackers, which are easy to take out and replace with retail, Cataldo said.

TOD designers and builders are going to greater lengths to accommodate forms of micro-mobility like scooters and bikes. Dublin's Boulevard housing community, formerly known as Dublin Crossing, is seeing a large percentage of its residents quickly take to bike transportation, said Gates + Associates partner Casey Case, whose firm led landscape architecture for the massive project.

"In Boulevard, there's such an emphasis on the bike that the multi-use trail became one of the major connective nodes throughout the whole development," she said.

Other points of emphasis Gates + Associates has adopted for TOD include fostering feelings of safety through lighting and mid-block crosswalks to encourage walkability and bike-ridership, Case said.

In the Warm Springs/South Fremont BART TOD master plan Gates + Associates is involved in, designers have carved room for the very European street-design concept of a woonerf, which is meant to allow drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to all share one road. 

"One of the goals is to create a de-emphasis on the car," Case said. 

Panoramic Interests' 500 Kirkham Rendering
A rendering of the Panoramic Transit Village at 500 Kirkham

Concepts like the woonerf are a far cry from TOD of the past, according to Abigail Thorne-Lyman, who leads TOD for BART.

"In the industry, we call it transit-adjacent development," she said. "You can have a development that's within 500 feet of transit but with a giant wall blocking access. A lot of it comes down to station access."

Access to other necessities also increases the viability of TOD as a Bay Area housing solution, though not always enough to overcome soaring construction costs, developers say.

AvalonBay Communities has had numerous East Bay successes with multifamily near transit, including over 500 units at Avalon Dublin Station adjacent to the city's BART station. The developer is also under construction on the next 200 units adjacent to the Pleasant Hill/Contra Costa Centre BART station, where it already has 1,400 units in a mixed-use community.

"Developing mixed-use developments that include housing, commercial and retail at TOD's would be smart growth and alleviate pressures in San Francisco and there is capacity in many East Bay cities," AvalonBay Communities Senior Vice President Nathan Hong said. 

TOD projects of smaller scope, even in East Bay markets like Walnut Creek with rents almost comparable to those in S.F., haven't always been as lucky. BayRock Multifamily CEO Stuart Gruendl said they couldn't get their 52-home luxury apartment development just blocks away from Walnut Creek BART to pencil because of costs, but that the model for East Bay housing going forward is sound. 

"Everyone wants walkability," Gruendl said. "The highest demand component is live-work-play, and if you can't live there you need to travel quickly. And BART is the easiest way to go."

Join Anthony Cataldo, Casey Case and other East Bay multifamily developers, investors and architects at Bisnow's Oakland & East Bay Multifamily event on Aug. 29 at the Marriott Oakland City Center.