Canadian Developer Onni Group Turns Eyes to East Bay, Proposes 638-Unit Complex in Emeryville

Bay Area, San Jose, San Francisco, Onni Group, Emeryville, Wells Fargo, Allegro Ballroom, Los Angeles, IBI Group, Powell Street Plaza Shopping Center
Image Credit: IBI Group

By Meghan Hall

Since the Great Recession, the Bay Area has seen a tremendous amount of growth and transformation, with investors and developers eager to snap up space in prime markets such as San José and downtown San Francisco. However, as the market cycle has matured, developers are increasingly turning their sites to the East, proposing new, higher-density projects to keep pace with the region’s high demand for housing and office space. Vancouver-based developer Onni Group has picked up on this trend and submitted a pre-application in November 2018 for a 54-story, 638-unit residential tower and the addition of a 16-story, 238,000 square foot office building at 5801-5861 Christie Ave. in downtown Emeryville. Once completed, the 638-foot tall residential tower will be one of the tallest to grace the East Bay skyline.

Called the Onni Christie Mixed Use Project, the residential tower will be composed of approximately 126 studios, 332 one bedroom, 125 two-bedroom and 55 three-bedroom units.

According to public documents, the development will also include 20,000 square feet of retail space and will retain the existing 87,410 square foot office building currently occupied by Wells Fargo and other tenants, bringing the total office square footage on the property to 325,410 square feet. However, the adjacent one-story building, totaling 44,000 square feet, which is currently occupied by Allegro Ballroom, will be demolished. Parking spaces for 1,105 vehicles are currently planned, as is a half-acre City park in compliance with the City of Emeryville’s General Plan.

Image Credit: IBI Group

The architect on the project is Los Angeles-based IBI Group.

In July 2018, Onni Group informed the City of Emeryville that it had entered into a two-year escrow agreement for the 3.75-acre property known formerly as the BRE Gateway site, which is located just north of the 76 gas station and the Denny’s restaurant on Powell St. Onni is expected to receive entitlements over the course of the next two years.

The project site is centrally located right next to Interstate 580 and is within walking distance of the Powell Street Plaza Shopping Center, which is anchored by a Trader Joe’s and includes other retailers such as Daiso Japan, Nothing Bundt Cakes and Starbucks. The Emeryville Transit Center is also within walking distance providing easy access to several train and bus lines.

In its General Plan, the City of Emeryville has encouraged the future development of high-rise towers, setting no maximum building height for proposed development. Several other projects, such as a 225-foot tower at 5850 Shellmound Way, which would bring 300 residential units to market, would also be a stone’s throw from the Onni Christie Mixed-Use project and is also currently going through the pre-application process.

However, per Emeryville’s current urban design policy, tower separation is required; proposed projects must be separated by an adequate distance from other developments with a height greater than 100 feet. If approved, Onni’s project would preclude any other buildings nearby over 100 feet tall meaning that, according to city documents, the 5850 Shellmound Way would not be possible given its proximity to the Onni site.

While no maximum height is specified in the General Plan, current zoning laws mean that in order to procure a permit for the desired tower height for the project, Onni will need to include more than 100 affordable residential units and provide community benefits within the development. However, the project is still only in its preliminary planning stages, and Onni will still need to submit a formal application before its plans for development can proceed.

Onni Group did not respond to The Registry’s request for comment.