The Oakland City Council unanimously approved a 24-story tower at MacArthur BART station on Tuesday, the final phase of a mixed-use development that has transformed what was once an eight-acre parking lot.
At 260 feet, the tower will be nearly three times taller than other structures in MacArthur Transit Village; the neighborhood is zoned for buildings no taller than 90 feet, but the City Council approved an exemption after developers agreed to include affordable housing, hire locally and invest in local beautification and infrastructure.
City Councilman Dan Kalb, who represents the North Oakland district, said that one concession he wasn’t able to reach with developers McGrath Properties and Boston Properties was to have affordable units spread throughout the building; instead, they will be located on lower floors.
Kalb said developers agreed to contribute more than a million dollars to upgrade pedestrian streetlights and nearby Mosswood Park. It has also agreed to hire 50 percent local residents for construction and to consider environmental steps like having all electric appliances.
The project should be a model for getting more affordable housing built in the area, said Kalb.
There were many speakers at the meeting, both for and against the project. Merchants' association Temescal Telegraph Business Improvement District supported it wholeheartedly, while the local hire aspect drew support from a carpenters’ union.
Some residents said the building was too tall for the neighborhood and would draw more traffic, while others said the city should have held out to have more than 11 percent of the units set aside as affordable housing.
The building will have a total of 402 units, including 45 that are below-market rate, with studio apartments starting at $1,360 a month and two bedrooms renting for $1,690.
The project is part of an effort by BART to develop the areas around its stations via infill projects that create new housing and retail. While BART policy requires that 20 percent of new units be designated as affordable, that rule was enacted after the transit agency approved the MacArthur development in 2010.
Initially, all affordable housing was intended to be in the 90-unit Mural building nearby, which was completed last year. The tower developers added the affordable units in an effort to secure approval for the height exemption. MacArthur Commons, a third development which broke ground last week, will have 11 affordable units among the planned 385.
When construction concludes in 2019, 146 units in the entire development will be designated affordable — almost 17 percent, but still short of BART’s overall goal of 20 percent.
BART Director Robert Raburn, who represents the MacArthur station area, said the project will benefit the city of Oakland by adding businesses and housing and the region by encouraging use of public transit.
He said the city badly needs the housing units it will bring and the MacArthur station, with its four platforms and 10,000 daily passengers already, is big enough to take on the extra load.
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