19 September 2007

Mixed bag

Tonight the parties requested a more informal setting than the typical City Council meeting, even though the session was held in Council Chambers. So instead of the pols sitting on the dais, city officials and developers/architects sat around a bunch of pushed-together tables. This made for a constant flow of ideas and quick exchanges. The format was considered quite positive and will likely be used for other sessions of this type. Keith Wolff led the presentation, aided by Gensler's Marty Borko, who fleshed out the details.

A few new details came out of tonight's work session. Nothing really major, but still worth noting:
  • The number of housing units to be built will be close to 3150, a 250-unit jump over previous estimates. Keith Wolff explained that the development team spoke with housing developers and saw potential for such an increase. Perhaps they are anticipating a rebound in the housing market by the time construction begins.
  • Land west of Cushing Parkway that was previously designated as interim parking (the "West parcel") may undergo a mix of zoning changes. Instead of purely residential use, up to 300,000 square feet of R&D/office space could be built in at least two-story buildings. 7 acres could be set aside for one more car dealership as part of an extension to the Auto Mall.
  • With the increase in housing units come plans for greater densities. Originally, much of the acreage would have had 12-25 units per acre. The range has gone up considerably, up to 40 units per acre in some locations. To do this, some buildings would have to be taller than three stories. It's expected that the entire development would show a sort of tapering effect of building heights from the ballpark/village to the outer edges of the lower density residential area. This could pave the way for more affordable homes as well since there would be greater variance in home types and sizes.
  • The school will in fact be in the residential area. The proposed site is at the southern edge of the property. 4 acres is being considered for the "urban" school setting, an idea that the A's and the city were receptive to. The example cited was Horace Mann Elementary in San Jose. Horace Mann is a 3-acre school that neatly fits into a city block and was only recently reconstructed. A school of this size would not have multiple ballfields or sprawling portable classrooms.
  • Neighborhoods would be centered around numerous small parks and open spaces. These small parks would be maintained by the homeowners' association. The neighborhoods are meant to have individual character, a la South Park in SF or Gramercy Park in Manhattan. (Bar set too high? Probably, but that's what they're aiming for.)
  • West parcel interim parking would have to be replaced by additional parking in the area before anything could get built on the parcel.
  • Additional retail spaces are possible within the greater residential area, including a grocery store and smaller shops.
I didn't expect much to be revealed about the parking and transportation plans, but there were a few interesting ideas being discussed. None, however, do more than scratch the surface.
The above is my depiction of a parking and traffic management slide shown during the presentation. The idea here is to route cars to the nearest parking lot while minimizing cross-traffic. It would reduce most car movement to right turns. So if you're coming from 880 north of Fremont, you might be redirected to the lot across Auto Mall Parkway. If you're coming from the south, you might be sent to the West parcel. Shuttles would be run from some of the team-operated lots, though it's expected that many will walk.

Parking projections have increased to 11,342 spaces not including the village commercial area garages. The explanation here is that in order to project a worst-case scenario, the village parking has to be considered off limits.

Councilmembers Steve Cho and Bob Wieckowski both suggested pedestrian overpasses to assist the public in crossing both Auto Mall Parkway and I-880. This concept was not met with great optimism, probably due to cost. Regardless, it's worth considering if only to get cost estimates. There's even an opportunity for ad revenue to help pay for the cost.

Towards the end of the session, Mayor Wasserman expressed frustration at the delay surrounding the development application:
"We need to get to the next step in terms of getting the application in and the environmental impact (report) moving."
At the same time he preached patience since the process is expected to run slowly after the application is submitted thanks to the EIR and other studies.

Sierra Club rep Vinnie Bacon had serious reservations about the development. He felt that the details shown so far regarding transit/transportation were "woefully lacking." 3,000 new homes were an area of great concern, and any steps to mitigate impacts on the wetlands area would be akin to placing "a solar panel on a Hummer." He also claimed that the retail component of the village would draw dollars away from existing businesses. He neglected to mention that the retailers at the site would be higher-end and wouldn't necessarily compete with existing retailers in the city. Massimo's owner Bill Rinetti disputed the negative view of economic impact, stating that Fremont needs to keep its entertainment dollar. Rinetti happens to be the brother of A's VP of stadium ops David Rinetti.

Overall, nothing significant. The application is supposed to be out in the next couple of weeks. The next work session will be in another month or so. Until then I'll be twittling my thumbs...