Artists and tradesmen packed the City Council Chambers last Thursday evening as the Emeryville Planning Commission moved forward with consideration of the Sherwin-Williams Development.
The 10 acre, seven parcel development along the southern end of Horton Street is slated to bring 540 units of housing, along with almost 95,000 square feet of commercial space. The site was previously home to the Sherwin-Williams paint factory from 1919 until 2006.
Approximately fifty residents were in attendance during the first public meeting after the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was made available to the public.
Some of the report’s major findings document a potentially significant traffic impact to the intersection of 40th Street and San Pablo Avenue, as a result of the development, and the possibility of discovering Native American human remains during the construction process.
After the EIR’s findings were presented by Judy Malamut of LSA Associates, the firm responsible for drafting the report, approximately two dozen residents spoke during the public comment period. One of the largest groups in attendance were residents of the 45th Street Artists’ Cooperative, located directly across the street from the planned development.
The co-op’s residents raised numerous concerns during public comment about noise, dust, traffic impact, and the toxic hazard the development would create. All of which could potentially affect the quality of life within the building and around the neighborhood during construction, they argue.
“The majority of the co-op members live and work in their homes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We have no air conditioning and no air filtration. We really rely on our windows and skylights for ventilation. That leaves us very vulnerable to the construction fallout,” said Kris Peterson, a co-op member.
Similarly, a small group of local union tradesmen’s also spoke of the possible health impacts of working on a site that had previously contained toxic chemicals.
The site was previously cleaned up during a toxic chemical remediation project, as certified by the State’s Department of Toxic Substances Control. In addition to paint, the factory had also previously manufactured pesticides containing lead and arsenic from the 1920’s until the late 1940’s. All of which contributed to soil and groundwater contamination.
The co-op group had also retained the services of an environmental consultant, Richard Grassetti, who spoke about problems with the EIR’s generic written nature. He believes that the project is not feasible due to the lack of affordable housing, under the City’s density bonus system.
The current bonus system, modified last year, requires developers to obtain bonus points by providing affordable housing units and certain community benefits. The number of bonus points that a project might need varies and is dependent on the developer’s proposal. The developers may also choose to propose a project that requires no bonus points.
Other commenters further elaborated on Grassetti’s comments, pointing out that the developer’s application was submitted prior to the modification of the bonus point system in 2015. They argue that the application has not been reconciled with the updated affordable housing units requirements within the modified bonus point system.
“…The goal posts were moved when the city changed its regulations to only allow bonus points with the addition of affordable housing,” noted former Planning Commissioner Paul Germain and current co-chair of the Park Avenue Resident’s Committee (PARC), who was in favor of the co-op submitted ‘reduced density’ variants one, two, and three in the EIR.
“All of these scenarios and all of these alternatives require bonus points to be built. The document does not acknowledge the requirements of these new regulations and does not describe a project that complies with the new regulations.” Germain went onto say that the co-op’s alternative was considered to be the environmentally superior alternative in the EIR.
“That [environmentally superior] alternative reduced the density by approximately 30 percent, moved the mass of the project north…(and) lowered the peripheral buildings along Horton Street and Sherwin Street to comply with the Park overlay district guidelines.”
This Alternative proposed by the Artist Co-Op suggested splitting the existing Sherwin Factory at 45th and pushing the Density to the North of the parcel.
But the EIR also went on to reject the Cooperative’s alternative. Simply stating that “the alternative would not fully meet the objectives of the proposed project.”
During the latter part of the meeting, the City provided some clarification on the application’s timing and the changes in the bonus point system, but later cautioned that this issue would be responded to fully in a “response to comments” document when the final EIR is published.
“The project under the former rules, when the application was submitted, did require a development bonus. And, in fact, it required the maximum development bonus of 100 points,” said Charles Bryant, the City’s Director of Planning. “The rule at that time did not include affordable housing as part of the bonus. But it did require the bonus and community benefits.”
Commissioners remained silent regarding most of the comments, as Bryant had made clear from the get-go that the meeting was only for the commission to receive comment. Staff and Commissioners encouraged members of the public to submit their comments in writing and stated that all comments would receive a response in the Final EIR.
During the Commission’s comment period at the end of the meeting, Commissioner Sam Kang raised a question of with whether local Ohlone Indian representatives were brought into the discussion during the drafting of the EIR.
Malamut said that she did not believe that group representatives were specifically contacted.
The EIR is the first step for a development project to proceed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The report details “…direct physical changes to the environment. Economic and social changes are not…generally not evaluated in CEQA documents,” according to Malamut.
The document will be revised based on feedback and discussion. LSA Associates expects to present responses to comments and the final EIR to the Planning Commission at a yet to be determined date. It would then it would be forwarded onto the City Council for approval sometime during the summer.
Public comments are being accepted through March 8, 2016 by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Planning Commission Study Session with presentation by LSA Associates and subsequent public comment can be viewed above at 40:05
The 528 Page Draft Environmental Impact Report can be viewed below or on the City Website.