Oakland Approves Lake Merritt Mixed-Use Project at 2400 Valdez

Oakland, Hanover Co, East Bay, Bay Area, Oakland Planning Commission, Lake Merritt, Broadway Valdez District Specific Plan, TCA Architects

By Daniel Smith

Pleased with the execution of requested design changes, the Oakland Planning Commission brushed aside belated environmental protests April 20 and unanimously approved a seven-story mixed-use project just north of Lake Merritt.

The project at 2400 Valdez Street between 24th and 27th streets includes 225 apartments, 22,780 square feet of ground-floor retail, and underground parking. Houston-based Hanover Co. is the developer of the 1.1 acres owned by the Smith and Masri families.

[contextly_sidebar id=”XR8kyAreV0IGA69Se46x15sKfCb53xnP”]“What we present this evening is not only Hanover’s vision, but the city’s vision as well,” development partner Scott Youdall told the commission, crediting the standards and uses required by the two-year-old Broadway Valdez District Specific Plan. “It’s a current parking lot, not a very pedestrian-friendly experience…We expect the retail will generate $1.2 million in annual sales tax revenue.”

Part of that will be a 5,000 square foot retail plaza in addition to the floor space, while the apartments will include studios and units with one, two or three bedrooms.

“I think overall, it’s a really fabulous project,” gushed Commission Vice-Chairman Adhi Nagraj, part of the 6-0-1 approval vote and one of the four commissioners to laud the project Wednesday night. City staff said Commissioner Chris Patillo recused herself from the vote because her landscaping company has done work with one of the parties involved.

Patillo was also conflicted from working on the project as part of the commission’s Design Review Committee, leaving Chairman Jim Moore and Nagraj to work with architect Bob Collins on suggestions to “reduce massing” and other concerns.

“I think the design of the project is great,” said Moore, calling the changes “exciting” as illustrated by before and after images Wednesday. Noting that the building design is alternatively faced with plaster, stone and corrugated metal, he added, “The way the different surfaces interact is very well articulated.”

“It’s not always the case,” Collins admitted afterward of the commission’s positive reaction to the design changes. A senior associate with TCA Architects in downtown Oakland, he added, “I think what went well is that they felt like they had a hand in it.”

“I was pleased with the commission’s decision. I think it’s a reflection of a project that performs to the level that the city needs,” Youdall said Thursday, projecting a two-year construction period to begin in late summer or early fall.

Five members of the public addressed the commission on the project Wednesday including attorney Laura Horton of Adams Broadwell Joseph and Cardozo. Horton contested the project’s environmental review on behalf of Oakland Residents for Responsible Development (ORRD) with 31 pages of legal correspondence delivered to City Hall at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Horton disputed several conclusions by the city staff and consultants, telling the commission, “The project is inconsistent with the Specific Plan and violates CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act).”

Horton and two Oakland residents called for the project to receive a complete EIR rather than the addendum to the Specific Plan’s 2014 environmental impact report by planning giant Environmental Science Associates. In one of several written responses to the belated challenge submitted by project proponents, Jennifer Rank of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton noted on Hanover’s behalf that five other projects in the plan area have already gone unchallenged and were approved with the same CEQA review.

Contacted Thursday, Horton said she was unsure whether the ORRD will appeal the commission approval to the city council, which must occur within 10 days.

Responding to allegations of soil contaminant hazards by the three speakers, planning staff Pete Vollmann cited other parcels in the neighborhood and told the commission, “In comparison to other sites, this one is fairly clean.”

Noting that the two residents were affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, another speaker expressed skepticism over the protests.

“We don’t like CEQA being misused, and we think that is what’s happening here,” said Greg McConnell, president and CEO of the downtown-based Jobs and Housing Coalition. Suggesting that the concerns might not have been raised were there a Project Labor Agreement in place, he clarified his organization’s support for organized labor but belief that such agreements should only be used for projects on publicly-owned land.

“It’s unfortunate, but I just don’t feel there’s an issue there,” Moore said of alleged health risks of the project construction. Disparaging the CEQA challenge, the commission chairman responded, “It just feels that it’s not being applied where it should be.”

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