30 March 2006

Fremont in the news

Last night Lew Wolff spoke at a Washington Township Men's Club function, which was held at the Fremont Elks Lodge. He was there rubbing elbows and selling the plan to Fremont business and civic leaders. Merc reporter Barry Witt has a must-read recap, including greater detail of what Wolff's vision is than what we've heard publicly. (For the record, I haven't heard that much privately.)

Wolff discussed a many-faceted plan:

  • Work with Cisco to get control of the parcel Cisco controls within Pacific Commons.
  • Get entitlements from Fremont to build the ballpark and the mixed-use ballpark village plan. This includes some 2,000 housing units, from which some portion of profits would provide $200 million towards a ballpark.
  • Scope out Fremont's requirements to provide services to this new area.
  • Figure out how to get 15,000 parking spaces on the property along with the ballpark and other development.
  • Work with city and transit officials to complete a usable mass transit infrastructure (shuttles from BART and buses at this point).

Here's an updated picture that shows the lay of the land (10:28 PM - changed to reflect land that can be developed and land that is protected):

Now let's address these issues one-by-one.

Cisco: Cisco currently has no way of pushing the conversion of its industrial-zoned land to residential or mixed-use. It also has an option to purchase the land and a long leasehold. They are interested in having land available for future expansion should it be required, so they may not be willing to simply sell without getting something back.

Limited land size: 143 acres sounds like a lot, but not when parking is factored in. A typical surface parking lot has around 125 parking spaces per acre (The Coliseum complex is roughly 100 acres) . To get 15,000 spaces, 120 acres would have to be devoted to parking - the typical endless sea suburban model. Since that's not likely, some garages will have to be built. The ballpark will take up 15 acres. Streets and parks may take up another 15-25 acres. Wolff may want to place a hotel on the site. There would be an undetermined amount of commercial activity as well, though the existing Pacific Commons shopping center would cover some of that. Given all of these space requirements, it's easy to see how difficult it could be put it all together. A previous news item points to land in Dublin that could be used for the housing requirement, though that's another issue altogether.

Transportation: Other than a planned Amtrak/ACE station to the west of Pacific Commons, there are no existing plans to bring rail-based mass transit to the area. BART isn't going to expand to the west. Event-based shuttles are probably the most feasible option at this point. If BART's Warm Springs Extension (WSX) gets funding, service could start by 2010 or shortly thereafter. MTC and BART are still trying to figure it out. WSX is also dependent on the San Jose BART extension being approved, so there's still a lot of stuff to figure out there.

Fremont's growth and land use: Having 2,000 new units built means introducing 5,000 new residents to an area that has little infrastructure. There will have to be a mixture of medium-density and high-density development, perhaps even towers. Fremont will have to assess the costs of provide the full range of city services, including fire and police. Housing is expected to be sold or rented at market rates, so there probably aren't any huge risks of increased crime. Environmental issues are bound to crop up. Original landowner Catellus (now part of warehousing giant ProLogis) ended up with a smaller development plan than what they initially wanted, including the protection of over 1,200 acres of wetlands - much of it offsite. The introduction of residential could cause that agreement to be reopened and may shape the final development plan. Traffic will also be a driving force since Pacific Commons is only a couple miles north of one of the largest bottlenecks in the Bay Area, the 880/Mission Blvd/680 interchanges. The revamped 880/Mission interchange is scheduled for completion in 2008, but there will be some negative impacts from ballpark-related traffic.

The good thing about this is that there are plenty of options to get this kind of development done. Conditions may dictate a compact, reduced-sprawl model. There are also smaller issues such as where to place the ballpark on the site to allow for paid parking when a large retail center with free parking is nearby. Just because the parties are moving quickly doesn't mean they won't be thorough. There's one more extremely important factor: the way it's shaping up, a public vote won't be required.