A shorthanded Planning Commission met last Thursday July 28th to vote on certification of the Sherwin-Williams project EIR and to hold a Study Session of the latest plans presented by Lennar Multifamily Communities. Former Chairperson Brad Gunkel stepped down recently because of time constraints, John Bauters had to recuse himself because of his residential proximity to the project and Gail Donaldson has a working relationship with Lennar.
This left Commissioners Sam Kang, Steven Keller, Buzz Cardoza and Philip Banta to evaluate the report and certify the 528-page Environmental Impact Report (EIR). A certification that would conclude that the document was “adequate and reflects the independent judgment of this commission” according to Senior Planner Miroo Desai.
PARC (Park Avenue Residents Committee), has continued to advocate on behalf of neighbors and have pooled their resources and hired consultant Richard Grassetti to present its independent findings. Grassetti identified himself as having previously worked for LSA and has been writing and reviewing EIR’s for 32 years. PARC consists of two members from each surrounding development including the Emeryville Warehouse Lofts, Blue Star Corner, 45th Street Artists Cooperative and The Horton Street Lofts. It’s worth noting that Icon on Park, which consists of 43 rental units, has not participated in the community process and no members from management or residents were present.
This map shows existing and proposed transit stops. An Emery Go-Round stop would not be allowed on Horton because of its Bike Boulevard designation.
Many of the concerns about the EIR stem around the traffic analysis as the city is already feeling the squeeze of gridlock. The addition of 540 units and nearly 100,000 square feet of commercial space is only going to worsen this unless adequately mitigated. The area is not designated as “transit-oriented” but is classified as transit accessible meaning there is not transit directly at the site but within “a close proximity”.
LSA Associates study indicated only nominal traffic impacts including a mere 2% increase in traffic volumes on the adjacent Horton Bicycle Boulevard despite the relatively few access points and being bounded by railroad tracks to the West. The EIR did note a “significant impact” to traffic at the 40th/San Pablo Avenue intersection and it acknowledged it would exceed the available capacity.
The 1400 page Transportation Impact Analysis (TIA) provided by Fehr & Peers can be viewed online.
Grassetti challenged the thoroughness of the EIR particularly in regards to traffic and pointed out issues with the EIR and its response to comments including “deferral of analysis”, “overly optimistic assumptions” & “unverifiable conclusions”. “This EIR in my professional opinion is deficient“ Grassetti concluded. Grassetti also provided a comprehensive 24 page letter [PDF-pg. 121].
Warehouse Lofts owner Jack Ghizzoni made one of the more poignant comments of the evening challenging the assertion that the area was a “transit hub” despite AC Transit’s recent attempt to remove a Transbay route from the neighborhood and general overcrowding. “The EIR’s traffic analysis appears to be based on an assumption that this neighborhood is rich in mass-transit services. As a daily mass-transit rider, I can assure you that it is not.” Ghizzoni went on to suggest that the commission require a realistic traffic analysis before the EIR met certification.
“Let’s not let expediency be the enemy of progress” added Commissioner Kang who expressed general satisfaction with the collaboration between the developers and the neighborhood toward community building efforts. Commissioner Banta reiterated his observation of goodwill between the developer and neighbors and that they wanted the project to succeed. The comments put to rest any “NIMBY” accusations toward neighbors that clearly want the project to be built, but not at the expense of dramatic quality of life deterioration. Commissioner Keller, who is a 15 year resident of Pacific Park Plaza, compared the constrains of the project to his own neighborhood in density and traffic. A staunch bicycle advocate, Keller also added that he thought the amount of parking was reasonable. “You build for cars, you get more cars” he added.
After discussion, Commissioners Kang and Banta voted not to recommend certification of the EIR and the Commission deadlocked (Cardoza and Keller voting in favor). The EIR will now head to City Council on August 16th for certification with “no recommendation” from the Planning Commission. If Council approves the EIR, it would keep the project on schedule for approval by the end of the year.
Study Session held to review latest Lennar plans
Following the EIR certification hearing was a Study Session which was the project’s third. The presentation reviewed the previous efforts of the developers that dates back to October 2013 and presented a new option based on input from the community. Revisions that included stepbacks of the buildings, the consolidation of park space to create something closer to a Doyle-Hollis Park, a slight reduction in units from 540 to 500 units and a shift in density toward the north end of the project. The “Central Green” that the developer likened to SF’s South Park neighborhood and would run down Hubbard would be eliminated.
Lennar proposed achieving the required development bonus points through the inclusion of 17% “affordable” units and providing a community common space to house the annual roving Arts Celebration as well as a monetary contribution to the permanent Center for the Arts project. In addition, they would provide public improvements to Hubbard Street and contribute to the South Bayfront bridge project that would benefit the project and the entire community. The exact contributions would have to be clarified at the FDP (Final Development Plan) phase of the project.
Lennar representative Kevin Ma reviewed the revisions to the project and did his best to address neighbor concerns with mitigation of traffic with plans for the inclusion of Bike Share and Car Share pods. Ma also noted AC Transit’s plans for Double-Decker Transbay busses that were slated to roll-out in 2018 and reaching out to a street car consultant to ensure their project would be compatible with the proposed EBOT Streetcar project. Ma added that all of their efforts would reduce traffic from the project by 17% according to an independent traffic consultant.
Ma concluded his presentation by offering to further work through the community to achieve the necessary development bonus points in a way desired by neighbors. Particularly pleasing was Ma’s comments expressing openness to ownership units and Lennar’s financial ability to follow through on this. The city has not had a significant ownership project since 2009.
The E’ville Eye has continued to advocate for the inclusion of ownership housing, a more comprehensive parking management plan by the city and the addition of an Emery Go-Round route down Mandela to West Oakland BART that would save SF commuters upwards of 30 minutes of transit-time per day and make it more likely to be used by residents of this project and employees of the neighborhood.
The next City Council study session for the project is slated for September 6th. The entire Planning Commission meeting can be viewed above with the Study Session beginning at 1:51:00. The City also maintains a dedicated section of its website for the project. View the latest predevelopment plan proposal below:
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Bravo: “The E’ville Eye has continued to advocate for the inclusion of ownership housing, a more comprehensive parking management plan by the city and the addition of an Emery Go-Round route down Mandela to West Oakland BART that would save SF commuters upwards of 30 minutes of transit-time per day and make it more likely to be used by residents of this project and employees of the neighborhood.”
The most unrealistic part of this plan is the traffic/transit issues. And ownership housing would help stabilize the neighborhood.