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Oakland housing project with 1,000-plus units moves forward

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A 32-story tower would rise above what’s now a mostly vacant parking lot next to BART

A rendering of a slender, glass-paned housing tower. Courtesy Panoramic

Last week, the Oakland Planning Commission approved a mammoth mixed-use housing development near West Oakland BART, which, if approved, will create more than 1,000 new apartments next to one of the Bay Area’s busiest transit hubs.

The lot at 500 Kirkham currently serves as parking. Panoramic Interests—the same SF-based development company owned by Patrick Kennedy, noted for his experimental “micro pad” preconstructed homes for the homeless—says its designs for the site include 1,032 apartments and 41,135 square feet of ground floor commercial and flex space, located in three buildings, separated by two new pedestrian streets.

Roughly half of the units will be two-bedroom homes, with the remainder being one to four-bedroom units.

Kennedy says that “the development will take full advantage of its proximity to newly revitalized downtown Oakland, and to the only BART station directly connected to every other station in the Bay Area.”

The plan, approved last Wednesday, involves slightly different specs, estimating “approximately 35,000 square feet of retail and commercial flex space,” on top of “59 parking spaces, and a privately maintained but publicly accessible dog park, playground area, and pedestrian pathways.”

The largest of the proposed buildings will soar 32 stories above the mostly low-rise area just one block east of the BART station. Kirkham is a tiny, one-block byway connecting Seventh and Fifth Streets. Previously, Caltrans owned the parking lot here.

Of the 1,000-plus homes, 85 of them will be priced as affordable units aimed at “very-low income” earners.

A rendering of a train on an elevated platform passing three buildings in the background, two of them low-rise structures and one a taller tower.

The Planning Commission criticized previous designs for the site as looming and bulky. The taller but more slender 32-story tower is an attempt to slim down the overall profile. Site Lab Urban Studio’s Laura Crescimano is the development’s lead architect.

Emails to the body ahead of time were mostly supportive, with one particularly pointed message criticizing the city for its “likely needless stall-out” in not previously approving 500 Kirkham.

In 2017 the IRS dubbed the area around West Oakland Station an “opportunity zone,” a new classification offering additional incentives for developers building in such areas:

An opportunity zone is an economically-distressed community where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment. Localities qualify as opportunity zones if they have been nominated for that designation by the state and that nomination has been certified by the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury. [...] Opportunity zones are designed to spur economic development by providing tax benefits to investors.

Panoramic plans to construct the project in two phases, possibly beginning in 2020.

Approval from the Planning Department allows the developer to apply for additional permits needed, but more approvals are necessary before the proposal is final.