Warm Springs BART Station
The Warm Springs BART station was an opportunity to plan an exemplary Transit-Oriented Development. Unfortunately, we’re going to get a massive residential development with little retail or commercial opportunities for current residents.
With the NUMMI plant in full operation, this area was a de facto manufacturing area. When NUMMI closed down in 2009, I argued that the City should focus on restoring the manufacturing jobs that were lost. The City had other ideas such as a ballpark <link – http://bacon4fremont.com/as-ballpark-2010/> and residential development.
After NUMMI closed, the City was given a $330,000 federal grant to study the area. The conclusion of the ‘experts’ on the topic was more in line with what I’d been advocating for. At one of the meetings where the results of the study were presented, Matt Artz of the Argus humorously acknowledged this (note 1):
“I felt a little bit behind the curve at tonight’s public workshop on how to redevelop 850 acres in and around the former NUMMI site.
“Last time I wrote a long story about it, I was quoting the likes of Anu Natarajan saying the site could be Fremont’s long awaited downtown and Mayor Wasserman anticipating a development that would be like Bay Meadows on steroids.
“But it was pretty clear on Monday that things have changed. The consultants and city staff members kept talking about jobs and industry. It was as if Vinnie Bacon had inserted chips into their brains. Midway through the presentation, I half expected one consultant to start barking, “Bacon, Bacon, Bacon.”
I shared the City’s vision of a robust commercial area with Class A office space and advanced manufacturing facilities. The developers argued that the demand for this wasn’t there right now. Instead Fremont will now slip further into being the residential location for much of the commercial development in Silicon Valley.
Post-NUMMI Warm Springs Plans
In 2012 the City hired the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to do a study on what could happen in the area. The study was optimistic and detailed what a wonderful opportunity we have. It’s rare that you have a new major transportation station going into an area with so much nearby undeveloped land. The opportunity to do something exceptional was there.
The ULI study noted that some residential development should be allowed. I agreed that this should be a truly mixed-use area with commercial, retail, and residential. Still, we were assured that this would be a jobs-centered BART station bringing in tens of thousands of new jobs.
The City formalized what would the formal land use designations would be in the Warm Springs Community Plan. This came before the Council in July of 2014. This was approved by the Council with me being the dissenting voice. My reasons for opposing this were as follows.
- It allowed for up to 4,000 dwelling units to be built in the area. While I felt there should be significant residential in this area, 4,000 is just too much. It wouldn’t leave room for much else.
- The required density for much of the residential was too low for being near a BART station. With these densities we would end up with suburban townhomes, not what transit-oriented development should consist of. This also means the 4,000 homes would take up more and more of the area leaving little room for commercial development.
- The land use mixes were vaguely defined and allowed residential development in all of the ‘areas’ nearest to the BART station. Without a clearly defined commercial area, it was likely we wouldn’t get such an area.
Unfortunately, what I thought might happen did happen. The developers created plans focused primarily on their residential components and are moving ahead with these. The development of commercial activity has been pushed to the side, put off until unclear future phases, or both.
In addition to this, the affordable housing requirement was reduced to accommodate the new development. I had inquired about increasing our affordable housing requirement prior to approving new development at Warm Springs. This was actually called for in the last affordable housing ordinance. I was told there wouldn’t be time to do so. But somehow staff found time to change the ordinance to allow the developers to reduce what would be required of them.
The Three Main Warm Springs Parcels
This was where the main commercial component was supposed to be. One would walk off of BART, cross the bridge, and find themselves on “Innovation Way”. It was to be a hub of new businesses highlighting the technology firms that are in Fremont.
Lennar’s plans were to shrink down the commercial development to four lots right on Innovation Way. The housing components will be the first to go and there is no commitment whatsoever to develop the commercial component. So, for the foreseeable future, our “Innovation District” will be two blocks with open lots on both sides surrounded by a sea of 2,200 residential units.
There will be no appreciable nearby retail. No grocery stores, etc. will be within walking distance. I can only imagine what the traffic and parking will be like around here once these homes are developed.
The design is such that the four commercial lots will have difficulty coming to fruition. First, there is no room for parking. The required spaces, reduced for being near transit, would still require two floors of underground parking which would be quite expensive. There are no nearby parking lots people could use. Secondly, the surrounding area is all residential. There would be little retail or other services to accommodate the office space.
I honestly believe it will be an embarrassment to the City to have the main corridor of this development named Innovation Way.
The Toll Brothers development was where the residential component was initially planned. I agreed that this was the proper area for residential. The development that was approved, which was the only piece that I did vote in favor of, consists of about 1,000 homes. The design is very urban in nature and I believe it will be a quality development.
This was the last of the three big parcels to be approved. As with the Lennar property, this was a predominantly residential project that was approved with mine being the lone dissenting vote.
Of the buildable area, 73% will be dedicated for residential development with 42% of the total being townhomes. 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.
One positive aspect of this is that the developers of the three parcels did offer to pay for a new elementary school. Of course, trying to unload the kids from this development onto the existing school system would have been a nightmare and made these homes very hard to sell. What I take from this is that it shows developers can pay for the full cost of the schools their development demands and still make an adequate profit.
It remains to be seen what the traffic and parking will look like once these homes get built. We’ll also see if some of the proposed commercial development actually gets built. While I wish the best for Fremont, I’m not that optimistic.
Articles from my blog on Warm Springs can be found here.
Additional Notes on the Idea of a Ballpark at Warm Springs
I first ran for City Council in 2008 when the issue of a ballpark began in earnest. I was very involved in this discussion which dominated the discussion at the time. Below are some notes from an earlier campaign.
Potential Ball Park Site (Round 1)
In December of 2008 it became clear that the Ballpark Village concept at Pacific Commons was not going to work. (The main businesses in the area complained to the property owner, Catellus, which basically killed the deal.) The A’s put together a hastily developed plan to put the ballpark right next to the future Warm Springs BART station.
Given the close proximity of the site to the local Warm Springs residents, it’s not surprising that the local neighborhood was outraged by the idea. I attended the first protest which drew about a thousand people. Not surprisingly, the plan was officially dropped by the A’s soon afterwards in February of 2009.
Potential Ball Park Site (Round 2)
After the closure of NUMMI in August 2009, the City appeared to do little to address the issue. In January of 2010 we found out that the City had actually been working in secret, spending over $150,000 to study bringing the A’s to Fremont once again. I was very critical of these efforts. (See my position paper from 2010 <link>with more information on this.) This effort had little chance of succeeding and indeed, withered away.
Fortunately, in 2010, Tesla announced a deal with Toyota where they would buy the facility and build their cars here in Fremont. This was a surprise to the Council at the time. In fact, Mayor Wasserman once warned people that despite some speculation and wishful thinking, Tesla coming to Fremont was simply not going to happen.