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New bill would allow BART to develop housing

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Imagine stepping outside every morning and hearing: “The doors are obstructed, please stand clear of the doors”

This week, State Senator Scott Wiener’s headline-grabbing transit-housing bill SB 827 ended up chloroformed by a California Senate committee, but in the meantime some other Bay Area lawmakers have a much more direct and literal approach to the term “transit-oriented housing.”

AB 2923, a bill introduced by San Francisco rep David Chiu and Contra Costa County rep Tim Grayson in February and amended again this week, would allow BART to permit housing development on property it owns, provided that’s close enough to a BART station.

The bill reads in part:

Notwithstanding any other law, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) board of directors shall adopt transit-oriented development (TOD) zoning standards by a majority vote at a duly noticed public meeting that establish minimum local zoning requirements for BART-owned land that is located on contiguous parcels larger than 0.25 acres, within one-half mile of an existing or planned BART station entrance, in areas having representation on the BART board of directors.

As the Bay City Beacon points out, BART already owns “more than 200 acres of land near its stations, which can accommodate 20,000 housing units at high density.”

That would be very high density by Bay Area standards, but the point is it can be done.

The bill specifies a 20 percent affordable housing requirement, as well as mandates that projects stick by labor rules and design guidelines in the relevant cities and counties.

If AB 2923 became law as written now, the onus would be on cities to modify their zoning to accommodate projects on BART land. But if two years went by without action on a proposal authority over the zoning would default to the BART board itself, which would presumably just go ahead.

A BART train running on an elevated track. Photo by Sheila Fitzgerald

It’s admittedly a little weird imagining the BART directors of all people one day making potentially critical decisions about regional housing. But these are strange times.

In a letter of support penned in March, urban design think-tank SPUR’s Community Planning Director Kristy Wang anticipated potentially impressive dividends if the bill succeeds:

BART can deliver on its goals of producing at least 20,000 new units of housing (7,000 of which would be affordable) plus 4,500,000 square feet of office and commercial space on land it owns. The TOD standards would limit building height restrictions to between five and 12 stories depending on the station location and would require parking maximums.

Putting an extra spin on that “BART and you’re there” slogan would presumably just be icing.