Over the next six months, the city will hold a series of public meetings to look at plans to build nearly 600 new homes, in the form of apartment units and live-work spaces, and a commuter parking garage, as well as retail and office space around the BART station.
I think it sounds like an interesting project, one that the city has spent a lot of time on. Four years. Most intriguing to me is that it fits into the Smart Growth idea espoused by both economists and environmentalists.
Sure, a project like this presents more evidence that Walnut Creek isn’t Mayberry anymore. It’s urban, dense, and big. It will add about 470,000 square feet of new housing, retail and office construction. But, according to the city staff report, these new buildings fit within the parameters of the General Plan, and building heights would adhere to the 50-foot maximum established for the site by Measure A, the 1985 height limit initiative.
Will the project bring more traffic and congestion into town? Possibly. However, the project is located in a place that will encourage its residents to use public transit to get to work and to walk the short distance into downtown to shop, eat out, and go out for movies and other entertainment.
Over the past few years, I’ve read various reports by business leaders and East Bay economic experts who all say our regional economy can’t sustain itself in the long term if individual communities don’t provide sufficient housing for the people who want to work in them. Having masses of people spending hours in traffic, commuting long distances from where they can afford to live, just isn't cost-effective or healthy--for individuals, individuals, the environment, and society as a whole.
Transit villages built around BART stations are part of the Smart Growth wave of suburbia's present and future.
Nearly 600 apartment units won't fulfill the life-style demands of all the people who want to live in or near Walnut Creek, but it’s a start. Yes, this project, with its apartment housing, won't address the need of young families who want a spacious single family home and a yard, but Walnut Creek is pretty much built out and doesn’t any room to build a large number of such homes anymore. And these young families—unless dad or mom or both have well-paying professional jobs, or trust funds—can’t afford to buy in Walnut Creek anyway. And that's true, even with the housing market crash.
According to the staff report, prepared for Wednesday night’s Design Review Commission, the project will also feature public open space, public art, and publicly accessible views of Mount Diablo.
This project still has a ways to go, including studies on environmental impact and traffic flow around the 16.8-acre site, before it’s finally approved.
Also, we’ll need to see how it’s going to look. The project aims be “physically and visually integrated into the city” and to “create an attractive, livable neighborhood.”
Let’s hope that’s the case.
For more information about the project, and the proposed public meeting schedule, here's the link to the agenda.