Emeryville Transit Center heads to Council vote despite Planning Commission deadlock

Published On January 17, 2014 | By William He | News & Commentary, Planning & Development

At the October 24th Planning Commission meeting, the Emeryville Transit Center development project or “EmeryStation West” was resurfaced. The resulting vote by the commission was a deadlock with two ayes, two noes, and two abstentions (Technically a “tie” vote is a “no” vote as a majority was not achieved). Commissioners Kuemmerle & Gunkel who voted against the project found that it was “not in the public interest”, that the projects’ design conceived 5 years ago was dated and that it was unclear whether the site will be completely cleaned of toxins after extensive remediation. Commissioner Keller who argued in favor of the project noted that the addition of Bus Bays would move idling buses off the curb where they inhibit bike and pedestrian pathways and the addition of the plaza & mixed-use retail would benefit the Amtrak bridge crossing. Chairman Cardoza expressed that the project had languished long enough and that “it’s now or never”. Despite the “No” vote, the project will move forward to council without their recommendation on Tuesday February 21st where it is anticipated to pass and development to proceed on one of the last EPA Superfund sites in the city.

The project, proposed by the powerful Wareham Development, involves two sites: the 1.58-acre “Mound Site” north of the Amtrak station and the 1.1-acre Heritage Square surface parking lot. The former would become EmeryStation West, a 248,300 gross square feet office/ laboratory space in 7 stories on top of a two-story parking and transit podium. The new building will feature 148 parking spaces (125 public), four bus bays serving Amtrak, an open plaza on the upper level of the station, and 2,400 square feet of ground level active retail and transit oriented function spaces. The latter, would be increased into a 7-level parking garage with 675 private parking spaces and 3620 square feet of active commercial uses fronting Horton street. It also promises to widen Horton street, creating a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape.

The Mound Site was previously a Westinghouse facility that maintained and repaired electrical devices. Years after their departure, pollutants in the soil and ground water are still prevalent in the site. According to the presentation given in October’s meeting, an EPA Consent Agreement “required Westinghouse to place the contaminated soils within a slurry cutoff trench sealed with an engineered cap.” A representative from Wareham said that there will be remediation of the site before construction but the EPA will step away and the project will go to the DTSC (Department of Toxic Substances Control). DTSC is California’s arm of environmental control and are usually have stricter standards than the EPA.

While the  project marks a difficult decision for Emeryville. A brief pros and cons analysis shows that both there are many factors to consider.

Pros:

  • Adds office and laboratory office space, which should generate tax dollars to Emeryville.
  • 4 bus bays would help alleviate some strain from the Amtrak station.
  • Combined ground level retail space of 6,000 square feet would liven up the much underserved Horton Street north of Powell.
  • The plaza would add an open space to the neighborhood.
  • It complies with the General Plan’s goal of increasing laboratory, office, and ground-level commercial mixed-use spaces.

Cons:

  • More parking spaces means more cars to the already traffic-heavy City.
  • A park on a second level of a building will certainly not be as useful as one on the ground level.
  • It is unclear if the developer would completely remove the pollutants from the Mound Site.
  • Wareham was also promised $4.2 million dollars from the Redevelopment Agency to clean the site, money that could be used elsewhere if this project does not proceed.

transit-center3

What are your thoughts on EmeryStation West? Should we welcome another Wareham Development in the clustered area north of Powell? Will the council approve of this despite its previous lukewarm attempts?

The presentation to the Planning Commission can be viewed on the EPOA YouTube channel:

Further Reading & Resources:

Wareham finishes spec building in Emeryville | SF Business Times →
Emeryville.org Project Description →
Transit Center Gets Nix From Planning Commission | The Tattler →
Transit Center: Zombie Redevelopment Rises In Emeryville | The Tattler →
Towering Office Building Gets OK | The Tattler →

About The Author

is a city planner for the City of American Canyon. He grew up in Oakland and moved to Emeryville in 2011. He has a Master's Degree in Urban Planning from San Jose State University and completed his thesis on the impact of redevelopment projects in Emeryville. His interests include community planning, land use optimization, and urban design. William lives with his wife in the Park Avenue District and enjoys photography and traveling on his spare time.

4 Responses to Emeryville Transit Center heads to Council vote despite Planning Commission deadlock

  1. More than meets the Eye… A response to the Cons listed-

    1. Development in Emeryville is going to happen. The best way to minimize the impact of cars is to develop near transit. Given its location, this project is a Transit Oriented Development. Hopefully, sometime in the future, the Emeryville-Berkeley-Oakland Tram (EBOT) will stop at this site. The bus bays create a space for the EBOT.

    2. A greatly improved plaza is being created on ground level. The rooftop park is an added bonus. PLUS… this project creates a connection from this park directly to the pedestrian bridge deck. A marginal pedestrian experience will be transformed into a much more inviting journey. The building also provides an elevator with access to the roof garden and bridge. This may provide an opportunity to remove the top of the east elevator tower to open up views to the East Bay hills. Similar development on the west side, as part of the Marketplace redevelopment, could provide an opportunity to remove the top of west elevator tower. The overall pedestrian experience would be greatly improved.

    3. The Redevelopment Agency is dead. When it was alive, it provided a means of investing and reinvesting the future. The return on investment came from the tax increment of the developed property.

  2. Robert Prinz says:

    I’m all for projects which create increased density, but not at the cost of encouraging increased car trips in an area that is ideally situated for non-motorized travel but currently underutilized.

    If the developer and the city want to get serious about mitigating traffic impacts and encouraging non-motorized travel with this project they should consider things like:
    1) Turning the area of Horton Street around the development site into a slow, curbless, pedestrian-priority street (signed at 15 mph or less) similar to Jack London Square, or changing the existing bike lanes into a physically separated cycletrack to prevent cars and trucks from parking in them
    2) Blocking through access to motor vehicles on Horton Street at both Stanford Ave and 62nd Street to preserve the existing bike boulevard designation and usage of this corridor as a safer alternative to Hollis for cyclists
    3) Creating a better space for taxis, which currently spill out of the Amtrak lot and occupy nearby loading zones or bike lanes
    4) Improve the speed of the elevator at the railroad crossing bridge, so that bicyclists are not compelled to haul their bikes up the twisting stairway, putting them in conflict with pedestrians

    Also, as a side note: In the rules of order abstentions are typically counted as “no” votes, so the tally at the Planning Commission meeting was more like 4 to 2, against.

    • Anonymous says:

      More Pollyana NIMBYism from the Bike Crusaders. Thinking like this is why the region is an infrastructure embarrassment. The rest of the world has figured out that bikes, vehicles, and efficient mass transit on a regional scale can coexist.

      Of course, as with all Progressive thinking, if we just stick our fingers in our ears and proclaim “if we just build more bike lanes, the cars will disappear!, if we just build more bike lanes, the people will disappear!, if we just build more bike lanes, people will stop coming here!, if we just build more bike lines, time will stand still!… neneer neneer neneer… I’m right, you’re wrong! I’m left and you must be red! Go back to where you came from if you don’t like what a mess this place has become. I was here FIRST!

  3. Max says:

    Not sure if they have finished the building yet or not, but If the top is going to be like it is now it looks horrible from th freeway you can see all those equipments on top. They should cover that stuff on top. Also an ugly view for those who live in Emeryville in high rises that can see above the building.

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