Downtown Oakland plan eyes 29K housing units, 17M sf of office space

Zoning amendments to Specific Plan could reshape city center by 2040

A rendering of the downtown plan with Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf (City of Oakland, Getty)
A rendering of the downtown plan with Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf (City of Oakland, Getty)

The City of Oakland has completed a plan to allow the development of up to 29,000 new housing units and 17.2 million square feet of commercial space in its downtown.

The zoning amendments to the Downtown Oakland Specific Plan would reshape the area through 2040 by giving developers incentives to build projects in exchange for public benefits, the San Francisco Business Times reported.

The draft zoning amendments that are part of the––in the works for seven years––propose the creation of a laundry list of changes linking the physical development of the downtown area to the city’s goals for economic development, housing, social equity and transportation for the next 20 years.

The changes include the creation of a zoning incentive program that allows developers to propose denser development in exchange for certain public benefits.

It adds new zoning overlays to address sea level rise, minimum heights for sites the city has identified as priority for office use, and new-mixed use development in the industrial Victory Court area on the east side of Jack London square.

The city will host public meetings to gather community feedback on the zoning amendments, with the proposals expected to go before the Planning Commission and City Council later this year.

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Oakland began working on the plan in 2015 and intended to adopt it in 2020, when it was upended by the pandemic. It is the second-largest specific plan Oakland has worked on in terms of geographic area, city officials say.

“We’ve been working on this constantly the whole time — it’s really been the zoning amendments we’ve been working on,” said Oakland Principal Planner Joanna Winter, who is leading the effort for the city.

She said the city had also altered the amendments to reflect pandemic trends, including allowing residential components to office priority sites. The city has received development proposals for just two of the office priority sites identified in the Downtown plan, Winter said.

One of those sites, 415 20th St., now known as 415 Thomas L. Berkeley Way, was entitled by Houston-based developer Hines for a 862,000-square-foot office project in May 2021.

The other, 1919 Webster St., is the subject of a proposal from Ellis Partners and Intercontinental Real Estate, which want to build a 520,000-square-foot office tower there. Both projects are in line with the plan, she said.

[San Francisco Business Times] – Dana Bartholomew

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