Smart Growth Illustrated
Compact Development Endorsement Program, San Francisco Bay Area Communities, California
Developers trying to build smart growth developments in the San Francisco Bay Area have an unusual ally, a conservation organization called the Greenbelt Alliance. Smart developers have found that a Greenbelt Alliance endorsement can help level the regulatory playing field that is tilted against smart growth in many communities.
In 1987, the Greenbelt Alliance realized that to conserve open space, communities would have to build more compactly to accommodate new growth and provide affordable housing. To address this concern, the alliance began endorsing affordable, compact housing developments as a complement to their open space conservation programs. Since then, the alliance has added mixed-use development projects that include affordable housing to the program.
The endorsement process begins when a developer submits an application that includes a description of the project, an environmental clearance, a description of the surrounding area, a description of the public hearing schedule, and a planning staff contact. One member of the endorsement team reviews the project against the following criteria: location, effect on automobile dependency, minimum density, affordability, design, size, and community input. The reviewer prepares a report for the whole committee, which then makes the endorsement decision. Endorsed projects get a letter of support and a news release that can be used to publicize and promote the project. The alliance also actively supports some projects at hearings and other public forums.
Completed projects endorsed by the Greenbelt Alliance include Ryland Mews, a high-density (56 units per acre) mews-style condominium apartment in San Jose. Completed in 1996, this project offered a moderately priced alternative to high housing prices in Silicon Valley during the dot-com boom. Because it is two blocks from a light rail transit stop and near shopping areas, the developer could keep the parking ratio to a relatively low 1.77 spaces per unit. This freed more space for housing, allowing 131 units to be built on less than 3.5 acres in a four-story building.
Another endorsed project, the Emeryville Warehouse Lofts, was one of the earliest housing developments in an old industrial and warehouse area in Emeryville. The old fruit-drying warehouse was converted into 157 loft-style condominiums, and two new buildings provided six live-work townhouses, 15 studio lofts, and a parking garage. Twenty-one of the units were sold to moderate-income households, and five were sold to low-income households. This project proved the economic viability of housing in this area and helped balance the jobs-housing ratio in Emeryville. Built in the middle of an industrial and warehouse area, the Warehouse Lofts are now surrounded by a vibrant residential, retail, and office community.
Swan's Market is a mixed-use redevelopment of an abandoned historic market in downtown Oakland. Reopened in 1998, it includes 18 units of rental housing affordable to families with 20 to 60 percent of area median income, 20 market-rate co-housing condominiums, and one live-work space. The average residential density is 27 units per acre. In addition, a market hall houses the tenants of the historic Housewives Market, formerly located across the street. Restaurants and shops round out the commercial tenants. Civic presence is provided by a public courtyard, which is also home to a farmer's market every Friday, and the Oakland Museum of Children's Art.
Like many of the projects endorsed by the Greenbelt Alliance, Swan's Market has won several awards in 2001, including a Pacific Coast Builder's Golden Nugget award, a California Preservation Foundation Design Award, a California Redevelopment Association Award of Excellence, an AIA/HUD Secretary's Mixed-Use/Mixed Income award, and a Rudy Brunner Silver Medal for Urban Excellence.
From 1990 to 2004, the Greenbelt Alliance has endorsed 95 development projects and 17 neighborhood plans that, if built, would create more than 48,000 residences within existing city limits. By endorsing these projects, the Greenbelt Alliance is making smart growth easier to build while simultaneously reducing pressure to build over green space.