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Bay Area Transit Agencies Build on Parking Lots

202 housing units are now under construction on Caltrain's former San Carlos Station parking lot. Image: City of San Carlos
202 housing units are now under construction on the former San Carlos Caltrain Station parking lot. Image: City of San Carlos

Last Thursday representatives from Caltrain, the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) presented [PDF] current plans for building housing and offices on top of station parking lots, at the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) in downtown San Jose. Rail station parking lots offer the ultimate in “Good TOD” - Transit Oriented Development that guarantees new transit riders while providing housing and commercial space that can be conveniently reached car-free.

“There are many beautiful sites along Caltrain that could be ripe for development and become a revenue generating source for Caltrain,” said Caltrain Principal Planner Jill Gibson. "Often developers goals are in direct conflict with transit it's imperative that we identify long-range transportation goals early on."

Caltrain is working with those cities that have already completed station area redevelopment plans and adopted appropriate TOD zoning near stations to support mixed-use developments. The long-debated San Carlos Transit Village, now under construction, will bring 202 apartments to the former San Carlos Caltrain Station parking lot along with 26,000 square feet of commercial space. The project was scaled down in multiple iterations from a proposed 453 apartments.

A long-term lease agreement is now being negotiated with Sares Regis Group to develop 100 to 150 apartments on the Hayward Park Station parking lot, along with at least 50 parking spaces available to Caltrain passengers, 29 electronic bike lockers, and space for six SamTrans buses.

BART and VTA are developing real estate at their stations on a much larger scale than Caltrain. BART has already built several major developments on its parking lots [PDF] and is "engaged in 18 transit-oriented development projects at its stations, representing over $2.7 billion in private investment" according to the agency's property development website.

The Mandela Transit Village is a $900 million housing, office, and retail development proposal for the West Oakland BART Station. Image: BART
The Mandela Transit Village is a $900 million housing, office, and retail development proposal for the West Oakland BART Station. Image: BART

“There’s a capacity within a quarter-mile of BART stations to create 40,000 new housing units,” said BART Property Development Department Manager Sean Brooks. “We could have a big impact on how the region is shaped.”

BART has recently completed major mixed-use developments at several East Bay stations, including Fruitvale, Richmond, Castro Valley, and Pleasant Hill. As the rail system is extended south towards San Jose, BART and VTA are planning for thousands of housing units and jobs withing walking distance of the new stations. The Warm Springs Station Area in south Fremont, where BART will begin running trains later this year, has been rezoned to allow up to 4,000 housing units and an estimated 20,000 jobs in 11.6 million square feet of new commercial and industrial space.

VTA lists 23 sites stretching from Mountain View to Gilroy in its joint development portfolio, most of them VTA Light Rail and Caltrain station parking lots. The agency is also looking to create new development sites as BART, Light Rail, and Bus Rapid Transit lines are extended in the future.

“Our goal is to create mixed-use and mixed-income TOD,” said VTA Deputy Director of Real Estate Ron Golem. “We are absolutely trying to generate as much revenue as we can from joint development because we see those revenues as a way of funding transit improvements. We’re working cooperatively with the City of San Jose about how we can utilize value capture strategies as part of financing the BART [to Silicon Valley] Phase II extension.”

Golem cited existing zoning regulations as a major hurdle to transforming transit parking lots into mixed-use developments. One site that VTA is eyeing to build on, a 75-space parking lot at Evelyn Light Rail Station in Mountain View to which the agency ceased light rail service in March 2015, isn’t zoned for high-density development and so would require an amendment of the city’s General Plan. Such a project would however not be “transit-oriented” without the light rail transit service formerly available at the station.

“The main thing that we need to accomplish is a way of avoiding building really expensive parking structures because parking structures just work against your TOD goals,” concluded Golem.

One major station redevelopment project for which VTA completed an environmental review this Spring will bring 440 housing units to the Tamien Caltrain/VTA Station parking lot in San Jose. The agency is also building a 900-space parking structure there, where 275 spaces are available today.

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