E’ville Voices: A Former Planning Commissioner expresses optimism for Sherwin-Williams Development
The proposed Sherwin-Williams development will be the biggest residential project within Emeryville for the foreseeable future. It will have enormous impacts on not only the Park Avenue District neighborhood, but the entire region. Neighbors have expressed concerns ranging from parking & traffic, to affordability and environmental impacts. The E’ville Eye wants to be a resource for E’villains and stakeholders to express their views and we invite the community to weigh in on a project that has the potential to transform our town in many ways.
Contributing this “E’ville Voices” guest blogger post is former Planning Commissioner and Pacific Park Plaza resident John Scheuerman. Scheuerman is a passionate transit advocate and a big proponent of high-density development. Scheuerman challenges our current Council’s mandate for 100% family-friendly housing, the negative effect of “NIMBYism” and argues the density the project will bring could help spearhead better transit options that could lessen our dependence on automobiles.
Sherwin-Williams Redevelopment – We Can Do
I’m a big believer in synchronicity. A thoughtful neighbor gave me a copy of the book Democratic Architecture – Practical Solutions to Today’s Housing Crisis the same week the Planning Commission heard public comment on the Sherwin-Williams draft EIR. After reading the book and watching the Planning Commission meeting, I was compelled to write this article. The intention of this article is to open the door to new ways of thinking that may lead to a more livable, equitable, sustainable, and prosperous Emeryville. It is not an attack on residents of the Park Avenue District. I have great respect and gratitude for many of these pillars of the community who have greatly contributed to making Emeryville the exceptional city that it is.
I have three ‘take-aways’ that I would like to share from Democratic Architecture, published in 1996:
- The Bay Area housing crisis that existed in the 1990’s has gotten worse
- We need to be more creative in our housing solutions
- NIMBYism can be the enemy of great projects
Housing affordability is one of the biggest challenges facing Emeryville and the Bay Area today. While there is no ‘silver bullet’ to solve this very complex problem, we can help alleviate the problem by increasing the general housing stock and diversity, increasing our supply of affordable housing units, and better connecting excellent transportation with wise land use. Instead of reducing density at the Sherwin-Williams project, we should be increasing density that is combined with significantly improved transit access.
Our well-intended requirement for new residential units to be of 100% family friendly design stifles creativity and is at odds with our desire for a diverse community. Instead of mandating 100% family friendly design, let’s take a more reasonable approach that links the percentage requirements with Bay Area demographics. Democratic Architecture makes a case for designing flexibility into living spaces that allows for changes as our needs change. Let’s shift our focus from mandates that serve one group to flexible designs that will support our diverse community. Input on how to design our spaces should come from the people who inhabit them.
I find it quite ironic that many residents of the 45th Street Artist Coop, a form of affordable housing, are the most vocal opponents to increasing density that can bring housing affordability to others. Democratic Architecture states, “In the housing industry, the undemocratic obstruction usually takes the form of what is known as “Nimbyism,” meaning “Not in My Back Yard.” Time and again these minority neighborhood groups have prevented the construction of affordable homes and have been responsible for the perpetuation of suburban sprawl. Rather than spend countless hours negotiating and manipulating these groups through the mandatory public hearing process, builders and their architects often shy away from a project or compromise the building design to the point that it bears little resemblance to the original concept.” This statement rings true of the Sherwin-Williams development. We are squandering the opportunity to create a wonderful urban village.
I write this article from the perspectives of being a resident of Pacific Park Plaza (PPP) for over 20 years, a former Emeryville Planning Commissioner, and former member of the General Plan Update Steering Committee. Like many of my neighbors in the 45th Street Artist Lofts, I frequently work at home and rely on open doors and window for ventilation. My immediate neighborhood has been in a fairly constant state of construction and redevelopment the entire time I’ve lived in Emeryville. I’ve experienced dust and noise but the noise has been minor relative to the noise of the trains that pass through Emeryville.
Overcoming Fears of Density
During the course of the Sherwin-Williams public engagement process, a well-respected former Planning Commissioner commented that “density = traffic.” This widely held belief is disturbing on two levels; 1) Given the way that we’ve built car-centric cities for the last sixty years, there’s an alarming element of truth to the statement. 2) The “Density = traffic” mentality creates fear and discourages increased density that can bring excellent transit service (and reduced car traffic), vibrancy, safety, and support local serving businesses. Density without high quality transit, bike, and pedestrian connections can be a formula for disaster. But density combined with high quality transit, bike, and pedestrian connection is a significant part of a formula for creating the greatest cities in the world.
There are 586 residential units at PPP. It’s rational to think that this many units would create significant traffic in the neighborhood. My experience has been very different. During the many years that I commuted to work and left home and returned during commute hours, I seldom encountered other cars entering and leaving the PPP parking garage. When the neighboring Avenue 64 and Emme apartments came on-line, I didn’t observe a noticeable increase in traffic. However, I did notice that Christie Avenue came to life with more pedestrian activity. My neighborhood now has sufficient density to support a higher level of transit service. AC Transit is in the process of modifying routes to better serve this area. I’m seeing many more people using transit. A virtuous circle is created when density is increased and transit is improved.
The proposed Sherwin-Williams project provides 460 dwelling units on 8.5 acres. Comparatively, the apartments next to PPP at Avenue 64 and Emme provide 417 units. Below is a Google Maps image of the area around PPP. Shown within the orange box are Avenue 64 and Emme (image shows Emme Apartments site prior to construction). These apartments sit on about 4.2 acres total – about half the area of the Sherwin-Williams site. Yet Avenue 64 and Emme provide only 43 fewer dwelling units than Sherwin-Williams. The total number of dwelling units in the area around PPP is currently 1,688 – nearly four times what is planned for Sherwin-Williams. Considering that all these homes share the same streets with other commercial, retail, and food service buildings, traffic is nowhere near what one would expect. I provide this information because, with a project as important as Sherwin-Williams, unsubstantiated opinion simply won’t do. We must base our decisions on fact and real world experiences, not fears.
Sherwin-Williams High Density/Transit Rich Alternative
In the post Redevelopment Agency era that we now live in, collaborating with developers is essential to creating what we’ve envisioned in the General Plan and The Park Avenue District Plan. Although often vilified in Emeryville, my experiences with developers have been very positive. I’ve found that most developers truly want to create great projects and are willing to cooperate and collaborate. We can foster these essential relationships by engaging early in the design process instead of negotiating deals at the eleventh hour of final development approval.
The Sherwin-Williams project gives us an opportunity to partner with the developer to create an outstanding project that can be both a win for the developer and a win for Emeryville. I would like to have the draft EIR include a high density / transit rich alternative. This alternative will have five essential elements;
- A specified and agreed upon amount of affordable housing.
- The future Emeryville Streetcar will be incorporated into the design.
- A direct bike/pedestrian ramp from the new South Bayfront Bike/Ped Bridge to a streetcar stop at the core of the new project will be provided. This ramp provides access to transit service on Shellmound Street, will be considered part Emeryville Greenway and will constitute a portion of the open space requirement. (A southbound ramp from the bridge deck was discussed during the planning of the South Bayfront Bridge.)
- Ground floor ‘flex’ space will be provided at the core area surrounding the planned streetcar stop. This space may be used for commercial/retail/work-live. 5) Increased density that provides more housing and retail space.
Instead of fighting for less density, I’d like to see the Artist’s Cooperative push for better transit… and the increased density that can bring more affordable housing to Emeryville. By combining excellent transit with increased density that is balanced with quality park space, we can achieve a more livable, equitable, sustainable, and prosperous Emeryville.
Conceptual Layout and Building Massing
The Emeryville Streetcar
Visions for Transit in Emeryville, West Berkeley and West Oakland | Emeryville.org
Creating Livable, Equitable, Sustainable and Prosperous Communities through … | EBOT.info
The above video provides an example of how the streetcar could integrate with the Sherwin-Williams development [3:33].
Conceptual Emeryville Streetcar Routes (Amtrak to MacArthur BART).
For more information about the ideas provided or to provide feedback to the author, please email John Scheuerman.
John has been a resident of Emeryville since 1993 and has been a community activist. John was intimately involved in Emeryville’s General Plan update and became a Planning Commissioner as the General Plan work wound down. Through this involvement, John became a passionate transit, bike, and pedestrian advocate. He envisions world class transportation in Emeryville that includes a modern streetcar and significantly improved bus service.