The big item on the agenda last Tuesday night was the Lennar project in Warm Springs. At 2,214 homes, this is probably the largest project ever approved by the Fremont City Council. When this project was first proposed we heard that development around the new BART station was going to be “jobs-centered”. I applauded that idea and liked the concept of a mixed-use development – even one that included a large housing component. However, I believe the proposal from Lennar is far from the ideal that was originally presented.
In short, Lennar got what they wanted – the right to build 2,214 homes/apartments. The City got vacant space where we may get jobs-centered development some day.
A number of people from the public spoke asking for Lennar to give more back to the community in the form of affordable housing or other community benefits. I noted in my comments that this property is now very valuable for two reasons. First, the federal and state government put a lot of money into building the BART station which is a major amenity that allows the property owner to charge higher rents. Secondly, Council voted to change the land use on that site from industrial to residential/commercial. Thus, I feel the public is indeed entitled to getting a project that gives many benefits back to the community. In my opinion, the proposed project doesn’t adequately deliver in this regard.
As noted, I wanted to see a true mixed-use project here. What Lennar is proposing is to build 2,214 homes. They are NOT proposing to build any office/R&D space. Instead, they will provide four empty pads along Innovation Way that could someday become four story office buildings. No parking has been provided for these locations so there would need to be at least two stories of underground parking, making the construction of these buildings less financially feasible. Note that these four vacant lots, covering two long blocks, will be the first thing that one sees when walking off of BART into the project area.
I do like the fact that the developer is paying for their part of a new elementary school which will be built on site. This has been touted by project proponents as a huge benefit to the City. However, these new homes simply wouldn’t be viable without a new school. The 4,000 new homes by Warm Springs BART will most likely fill up this school entirely leaving no net benefit to the School District.
It was also touted as a huge benefit to the City that Lennar is providing the roads and other infrastructure to the site. Again, the project simply wouldn’t be possible without these improvements. Interestingly, I found out in my questioning that the construction of Innovation Way will be considered a public benefit that Lennar can use to write off their traffic impact fees. Of course, the main beneficiaries of this infrastructure will be those people that live in the project.
In the end, I was the only Council member who voted against this project. I feel we could have done much better on a project of such importance to Fremont’s future.