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El Cerrito angry about 146-unit housing development

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Developer previously predicted speedy approval of new apartments

The would-be new project on San Pablo Avenue.
The would-be new project on San Pablo Avenue.
Rendering courtesy of Joe DeCredico

North Bay developer Charlie Oewel plans to build hundreds of new units of housing in El Cerrito, including 146 homes dubbed the Baxter Street Apartments (or sometimes “Baxter Street Lofts”) on San Pablo Avenue at the site of a defunct Taco Bell. The plan for much-needed housing provoked ire from El Cerrito citizens unhappy about the possibility of an eight-story building rising nearby.

Berkeleyside reports that residents of the East Bay city are fuming at the prospect of the incoming eight-story structure:

A number of local residents oppose the proposed housing because they feel it is too tall and will ruin their views. The subject blew up on a Nextdoor thread with more than 230 posts that began in January and lasted half way through February, with some posters defending the proposal but the majority of them attacking it.

At a January City Council meeting, one man complained that the proposed building would “block his view of San Francisco” all the way in nearby Richmond. And one El Cerrito woman told Berkeleyside that it was less a question of views and instead how prominent the Baxter Street homes would be compared to the scale of the rest of the city.

“It’s going to kill the whole skyline, the light, everything is going to be impacted,” she said. “The idea of that eight-story structure sticking out there is appalling.”

And still other complaints, via email and even Berkeleyside’s own readers, express disgruntlement that the project will include only ten affordable units.

Oewel began pitching his plan in early 2017, laying out the basics of the then slightly smaller project on the crowdfunding investment site Endvest:

The plan is to acquire the land, obtain new entitlements as a multi-family residential development, demolish existing structure, construct a 132-unit residential building, rent up the units and then sell to an institutional buyer.

Baxter Creek Lofts amenities and architecture will be attractive to the tech population it is designed to appeal to a rental community that desires features found only in the most upscale competitors.

Oewel has two smaller El Cerrito projects brewing as well. In a YouTube video with Endvest’s CEO, Oewel framed the East Bay city as an ideal locale for investors to make hay off of the housing crisis.

An early rendering of the proposed new construction.
Courtesy Endvest

“Juxtapose 100,000 new jobs against 8,000 new homes and nobody’s surprised rents have gone up,” says Oewel, noting that the city is well-connected by BART and suggesting that those priced out of Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco would pay lower but still profitable rents for a foothold in El Cerrito.

Best of all, Oewel promised that development in El Cerrito will be easier than in larger Bay Area cities. He notes that the Baxter Street project benefits from both city and state laws that fast track the building through much of the usual entitlements process.

“As long as we conform to the code, we are entitled to build,” promises Oewel.

Oewel’s plans need to be approved by the city’s Design Review Board to move forward.

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At present, El Cerrito has 389 new homes in construction on or near San Pablo Avenue, with 527 more proposed, including the Baxter Street Apartments, which, if approved, would be the city’s largest development.

In a 2014 draft of the city’s housing element plan through 2023, the Regional Housing Needs Assessment estimated it should build at least 398 new units by 2022. The present pipeline, though very close to that unit total already, doesn’t satisfy previous estimates about homes for low-income households.