There was really only one important item in Tuesday’s meeting – A study session of the Master Plan for the property to the west of the Warm Spring BART station. Lennar is currently in negotiations with Union Pacific to buy the property from them.
Their proposal consists of 2,214 homes and potentially 680,000 sq. ft. of office space and about the same amount of Research and Development space. About half of the residences would be rental units.
The bulk of the public discussion was around the 12.9% affordable housing that Lennar is proposing. Since there will be so many rental properties, Lennar is able to propose less than the standard 15%.
There were a number of speakers from the RISE organization that told their stories about not being able to afford to live in Fremont. Some of the stories were quite compelling. RISE is asking for Lennar to increase the amount of affordable housing provided. One speaker that got my attention noted that it was largely the government’s huge funding of BART that will allow this area to be so prosperous, and that the developer should be asked to provide more public amenities as a result of that.
I have to tell a story about this. Last week I was talking to an ex-neighbor, a successful software engineer from Glenmoor, about this issue. As often is the case, I wanted to break the misconception that providing affordable housing is about moving poor people into town. Before I could do so, he said he totally understood the issue. He was trying to help his recently college-graduated son find a place in Fremont. He was shocked at home much it cost to get a small apartment anywhere in town. His son might have to live elsewhere.
I also had questions about parking and the nature of the units (i.e. flats vs. townhomes). It’s unclear where parking for the commercial property would go. There was talk that the developers of the commercial buildings could build subterranean parking, or that they might share parking with the residential structures next to it. While the parking demand may be reduced by being next to BART, this still needs to be specified. I was also surprised that there were no specifics on the types of housing that would be provided and asked to see this more clearly spelled out in future presentations.
Overall, I was disappointed with the amount of housing in the plan. The whole appeal for me in developing this area would be that we could actually have an area rich with jobs here in Fremont. I strongly believe that we could have a vibrant commercial center, complete with Class A office space, at this location. If residential is allowed to dominate at this location, as it does in the plan, it could reduce the appeal of this as a place for commercial development. Given that the proposal of the large lot to the east of the BART station is almost all residential, I’m worried that our desire to form a job-centered area at this location will not come to fruition.
The biggest issue I see is that the residential development will proceed right away, but there is no timetable to construct the commercial and R&D development. It could be years before we see any of the latter. The four lots where commercial development is planned are right at the main street coming from the BART station. Thus, we may have four vacant lots as the main parcels you will see when leaving that side of the BART station for years. I really want to see what it would take to ensure that we don’t end up with nothing but housing at this location for years to come.
You can read more about the plan here: