Emeryville Transit Center heads to Council vote despite Planning Commission deadlock
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 →