On 4/5 the City Council approved the Master Plan for the Old Warm Springs parcel by Warm Springs BART. I was the lone dissenting vote.
We were told that the development around the new Warm Springs BART station would be an ’employment-oriented BART station’. We were shown pictures of large office buildings and well-designed plazas lining ‘Innovation Way’. This was indeed a chance to build a mixed-use transit-oriented development (TOD) that could have been a model of how to do TOD. Instead, we got a 4,000 unit housing development that will be a boon to the developers that bought the land, and will provide little benefits to the existing residents of Fremont.
I see many examples of mixed-use, transit-oriented development near BART stations and CalTrain stations throughout the Bay Area. With ample employment and retail, these areas become destinations for the host city bringing in many employees and shoppers from outside of their city. These locations also become destinations for the local residents providing places to work and shop near home. This development claims to be mixed-use but I would disagree.
The parcel on the agenda was the last of the three big ones near the Warm Springs BART station. It is a 28.7 acre parcel to the north of Grimmer and to the east of Fremont Blvd. Of the buildable area, 73% will be dedicated for residential development with 42% of the total being townhomes. I don’t know how you call that “employment-oriented” transit development.
There is little hope of the 6.8 non-residential acres providing anything that the nearby residents, including the new ones, would find useful. First, the main gateway item right on the corner of Old Warm Springs and Grimmer will be a 135 unit hotel. This will take up 2.0 acres. While I’m glad that the demand for hotels in Fremont is increasing, I can’t imagine a worse pairing of land uses than residential units and a hotel. The one thing you will almost never need right next to your home is a hotel. The hotel may have a nice restaurant, but other than that, it will provide little benefits to the neighboring residents.
Secondly, the 4.8 acres of office is unlikely to provide Class A office space anytime soon. As with the Lennar development, the office space is assigned to the last phase and there is no commitment to complete it at all. The way this whole area was designed will make it harder for Class A office space to become viable. This location is about a half mile from the BART station putting it outside the typical walkable range. Also, the surrounding area will be industrial (to the west) and residential (to the east). There would be little nearby restaurants or retail to accommodate the employees working there.
There are several ways the developer has tried to sell the development as mixed-use despite the obvious predominance of residential development. First, they talk about ‘activated ground floor uses’. The idea is that these units could possibly become live/work units. We saw this same flawed concept proposed with the Connolly’s development in Irvington. There will be no requirement that it contain actual office space.
Secondly, there’s a section about the ‘new community’ to try and show this is a real mixed-use development. There’s a ‘young professional’ woman who does conference calls at home and then hops on BART to go to San Francisco in the evening. (Probably because there are no nearby entertainment options.) There’s a ‘parent’ and a ‘commuting professional’ who work from home, and a teenager that does homework at a co-working place. Unfortunately, the truth is this is a suburban, residential development that offers few amenities to the residents that live there. Most residents will probably have to commute to work elsewhere. There is no grocery store or other appreciable retail close by meaning they would likely have to drive once they get back home.
Once again, the developers proposed what is in their best interests and the City didn’t push back at all.