Feb. 2019 Planning Commission Recap: Arts Center Moves Forward; General Plan Progress Report, Duplex on 55th

Published On March 6, 2019 | By Christopher Bennett | News & Commentary, Planning & Development

After a light January meeting, the Planning Commission had a full slate in February. The highlight of the night was the chance to see the initial designs for the Emeryville Center for the Arts. In addition, the Commission received the annual General Plan progress report and held a study session for a duplex conversion of a single-family home on 55th.

Director’s Report:

  • At their February 5th meeting, the City Council held a study session on high-rise elevations, including an analysis on tower separation and unit mix, which the Planning Commission discussed late last year. They unanimously supported eliminating the current requirement for tower separation and replacing it with a finding that the proposed tower separation is adequate. However, the Council could not come to a consensus on unit mix requirements.
  • The Council reviewed wireless communication facilities regulations and unanimously approved the second reading of the ordinance amending the planning regulations which was recommended by the Planning Commission at their December meeting.
  • At their February 19th meeting, the City Council approved a noise waiver for Saturday construction at the Estrella Vista affordable housing project at 3706 San Pablo Ave. The waiver is for all Saturdays from February 23 – August 10th with an exception of Memorial Day weekend.
  • The Council also approved a framework for paid parking at the North Hollis and triangle area that involves installing 2 hour parking meters where there are currently green curbs.
  • The Planning Commission’s approval of the Marketplace Parcel B development has been appealed by City Council and will hold a public hearing on March 19th.

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General Plan Annual Progress Report

The meeting started with a review of the 2018 General Plan Annual Progress Report which was presented by the City’s Economic Development and Housing Department. As way of background, California Government Code Section 65300 requires each city and county to adopt a General Plan for the physical development of the jurisdiction. State law requires that General Plans include seven elements which must cover topics such as land use, housing, noise and safety. The plan also establishes a baseline by which to determine whether development proposals and public projects are consistent with the City’s goals for the future.

A few key takeaways from 2018 that were highlighted were the General Plan amendment that was approved. To recap, the amendment impacted 2.5 acres on the north side of San Pablo Avenue from 40th to 45th streets. The purpose of the amendment was to change the height, floor area ratio and residential density requirements in that area to help create more opportunities for development.

The report highlighted the major land use projects, including the completion of two parks (Christie Avenue and Peladeau) and the near completion of EmeryStation West and six units at Artistry Apartments.

In addition, the report highlighted the major projects that were approved or broke ground in 2018, including progress on 612 total housing units that either received planning approval or got through the building permit stage. A majority of those units (500) will be coming from the Sherwin-Williams project and 66 units from the Marketplace Parcel C development.

The report also highlighted steps the City is taking to become more sustainable, including an increase in electrical vehicle charging stations in City-owned parking garages and the ongoing development of a solar energy regeneration and storage program.

While 2018 brought progress, the report also highlighted the areas the City would like to improve. The biggest desire continues to be the need to increase our city’s housing stock. For reporting purposes, housing is tabulated through the Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA). RHNA is the state-mandated process to identify the total number of housing units (by affordability level) that each jurisdiction must accommodate in its housing element of their General Plan.

The current RHNA reporting period started in 2014 and runs to 2022 (56% through the period). The report identified that our City is still lagging in the creation of low-income housing, coming in at only 9% for “low” income units and about 32% of the targeted “very low” units.

This is not to say the City hasn’t made some recent progress, and there is optimism that 2019 will bring more. The City used nearly $2 Million dollars from its Low Income Housing Asset Fund including funding for projects like Estrella Vista on San Pablo Avenue which is slated for completion this year.

View the Entire Staff Report
Watch the staff presentation and subsequent commission discussion above at [8:15].


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Study Session: Emeryville Center for the Arts

The Commission held its first study session to review plans for the long-anticipated Emeryville Arts Center. Emeryville-based Orton Development Inc. (ODI) was awarded the contract for the project after a competitive and contentious meeting held back in September of last year.

The initial design from ODI and architecture firm Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects maintained most of the existing exterior of the building with minor changes to the facade. The interior would be gutted to create ample ‘flex space’ that could host a variety of art exhibits and programs. A co-working space and cafe would be built to help generate revenue and reduce subsidies by the City.

Amenities of the roughly 36,455 square foot project include:

  • Flexible gallery space (7,640 sq. ft.)
  • Multi-purpose Space (sq. ft. 2,579)
  • Studio space (Sq. ft. 6,985)
  • 10 studios ranging in size from 370 sq. ft. to 1,330 sq. ft.

One of the biggest questions so far has been parking. Under planning regulations the project needs at least 58 parking spaces, with the initial design having only 28 spaces that would be allocated from the current lot at City Hall. The developer will be performing a demand management plan along with a traffic analysis to see what options they have for additional parking.

Overall, the Commission expressed approval of the initial design. Commissioner Keller was quick to point out that there are practical limitations that will impact the design moving forward,

“We are working with two problems here. We are working with a significant structure, so we have limits to what we can do with the structure itself… and it still needs to make a sustainable amount of money, so what it is proposing in terms of work space, rental space, it’s really key to keeping this place running and alive.”

Commissioner Thomson liked the initial design, but felt the development team needs to incorporate more of the City’s design guidelines as they get closer to a final design,

“On the design, I do think the design guidelines should be consulted more thoroughly. The design is coming along, but the urban design…there are requirements about having a high-quality sidewalk, making sure there is landscaping… and I think a lot of those elements about the outdoors need to catch up with the design of the building itself to understand how the full environment is an addition to the city.”

Commissioner Donaldson wrapped thing up by expressing her excitement, but also suggested the development team look at additional storage options,

“I think it’s exciting. I think it’s exciting that it’s moving forward. My concern is also the Hollis street frontage, and making it transparent.  I still think that you better recognize that there isn’t a lot of storage space, and I still think there are things that need to be worked out.”

The current timeline has the project having a final design by the second quarter of this year and construction starting in the third quarter. The developer hopes to have the building finished by the fourth quarter of 2020, just in time for the annual Emeryville Celebration of the Arts.

View the Entire Staff Report
Watch the staff presentation and subsequent commission discussion above at [39:04].


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Study Session: Duplex Conversion at 1291 55th Street

The Commission wrapped up their meeting with a Study Session to review a Conditional Use Permit and Design Review application to modify an existing single unit residential building into a two unit duplex.

The building at 1291 55th Street was gutted by its previous owners and is currently uninhabitable. It has been vacant for several years and has a history of squatting including as a bike and copper theft ring in 2016.

The applicant proposed reusing the existing structure to create two residential condominium units to be occupied by the current owners and their families. This includes adding about 518 square feet of space, for a total floor area of approximately 3,502 square feet.

Unit 1 would be accessed from 55th Street, with four bedrooms and a deck on the top floor; Unit 2 would be accessed from the rear yard and would have a patio and five bedrooms on the ground floor. The applicant proposes two automobile parking spaces in the rear yard adjacent to ten covered bicycle parking spaces.

The applicant described the design as a “modern interpretation of the Victorian home” which includes maintaining some of the existing wood slated facing; adding grey metal panels; accenting the front door, front stairs, and a framed two-story bay on the west building elevation with yellow accents; and lowering the building height by just over three feet to comply with the maximum permitted building height of 30 feet.

The Commission seemed to like the design, and while some may question its place or call it jarring, Commissioner Keller noted that Emeryville, like so many cities, is constantly changing,

“this neighborhood is transitioning… and I like a lot of what Baran Studio Architecture does, and I like this particular house in these neighborhoods… none of our neighborhoods are static.. they are not homogeneous…. I think this is an appropriate design to put on this lot.”

Commissioner Young agreed, and added that the design and color scheme were unique and was in favor of the project,

“I think [the design] is pretty cool…and the overall form is kinda ingenious.”

View the Entire Staff Report →
Watch the staff presentation and subsequent commission discussion above at [2:25:40].

About The Author

was born and raised in the north bay and now lives on the Emeryville/Oakland border in the Longfellow neighborhood with his wife and two cats (Sherlock and Watson). When he's not writing, Chris works as an attorney who assist engineers and professional consultants navigate their contracts and related business issues.

One Response to Feb. 2019 Planning Commission Recap: Arts Center Moves Forward; General Plan Progress Report, Duplex on 55th

  1. Anonymous says:

    Regarding the proposed arts center…uninspiring design and poor adherence to code requirements. Getting out of this monstrosity will be a problem. The rooms noted as conference require two exits (over 750 sf), the main flexible gallery space has ONE exit to the outside, a dead end corridor exists, the toilet room are required to have equal number of fixtures, and to top things off, the horrendous plan graphics.

    Doesn’t this architect have any competent staff to figure these things out before they present?

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