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BART to build 519 new homes at Lake Merritt

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Board votes to begin negotiating with developers

A rendering of new buildings near Lake Merritt. Courtesy BART

Last week, the BART Board of Directors voted to advance a plan to develop hundreds of new homes near the Lake Merritt BART station, a proposal that’s been in the works for years and continues the agency’s foray into transit-adjacent housing on potentially choice plots of land it owns throughout the Bay Area.

Technically, the motion at the board’s September 13 meeting (which passed unanimously) only authorizes negotiations with potential developers, a process that could take up to two years.

A press statement from BART provides some additional details:

The Board voted to authorize BART staff to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement with a joint venture of East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC) and Strada Investment Group with a goal of creating a transit-oriented development (TOD) above the BART station.

The plan proposed by the EBALDC/Strada joint venture calls for four new buildings on BART-owned lots above the station. The proposal features 519 units of housing, 44 percent of which would be affordable, and 517,000 square feet of commercial space for offices and shops.

BART staff singled out EBALDC as the developer of choice but retains the option to negotiate with SF-based Strada if those talks fall through.

Abby Thorne-Lyman, BART’s manager of transit-oriented development, said at the hearing that Strada is on tap to prevent a repeat of the last time BART attempted to develop this site.

“We tried to do this in 2011, our developer pulled out, and we lost seven years,” said Thorne-Lyman.

The plan calls for four new buildings in the area immediately surrounding the BART station and connecting to Oakland’s Chinatown to the west.

The initial proposal includes park space in the areas above the tunnel (where BART engineers caution against building anything substantial) and 517,000 square feet of office space, 21 percent of which would be made available at 50 percent of market rates.

Thorne-Lyman notes that this element was particularly attractive to the city’s Chinatown Coalition and “non-profits being displaced” in the neighborhood.

Director Rebecca Saltzman pushed the question of whether the developer might use state density laws to opt for taller construction.

But BART General Manager Grace Crunican told the board “we had to fight like hell” to get neighbors to agree to the current heights. She cautioned that pushing further might endanger popular support.

Board members appeared largely upbeat about the project, with Director Robert Raburn saying he was “honored to make the motion that we approve.”

A few directors, including Contra Costa County rep Debora Allen, expressed disappointment that the proposal would mean eliminating 200 parking spaces in the area.

But ultimately the board voted to go ahead with the potential development.