OWow seeks to build tallest mass timber tower in US 

Developer proposes another revision to the Downtown Oakland project

OWow Proposes Tallest Mass Timber Building in US
oWow's Andy Ball with a rendering of plans for 1523 Harrison Street in Oakland (oWow)

OWow wants to add to the size of its proposed woodpile in Downtown Oakland, with plans for the tallest mass-timber building in the nation.

The locally based developer has once again revised plans for a 28-story, 496-unit apartment highrise at 1523 Harrison Street, the San Francisco Business Times reported.

The new plans come after oWow had revised its plans in March of last year to a 25-story, 361-unit tower. And that followed initial plans for 20 stories and 256 apartments.

Andy Ball, president at oWow, said more height makes for more apartments ,which adds to better financial feasibility. The more it can boost return and yield, the better, he told the newspaper.

To gain a required building density bonus, oWow had to resubmit plans and go back through the approval phase.

“Any decision to stay in the entitlement phase longer than you need to is cause for serious discussion, but we’ve got to maximize returns,” Ball told the Business Times. 

“I think that there’s so many projects right now that are in that position in California, particularly in the Bay Area, where developers think no matter what we do, these projects don’t make sense until the rents go up,” he said.

The developer paid $9.3 million for the half-acre site in March 2022. The proposed highrise would sprout next to a 19-story, 236-unit mass-timber apartment highrise oWow constructed last year at 1510 Webster Street, but delayed because of a PG&E transformer shortage.

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oWow achieved a 76 percent density bonus through a combination of local and state laws to add 214 units to the project. 

The firm won a 50 percent density bonus after meeting Oakland requirements. 

It got another 26 percent bonus through AB 1278, a state law enacted this year that allows developers to stack numerous density bonuses in exchange for reserving 15 percent of a building’s homes for middle-income households.

“This increase in density provides significant cost-savings that are critical for making the project economically viable in a difficult market for Oakland,” the oWow application says.

Aralon Properties, the developer behind the controversial apartment tower at the bottom of San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill, used AB 1278 to supersize its project to 24 stories, from 16.

This year, oWow leveraged the law to boost the number of units to 274, from 113, at an apartment highrise planned for 960 Howard Street, in San Francisco, according to the Business Times.

OWow, a specialist in prefabricated mass timber projects, was founded by Danny Haber and Alon Gutman in 2017, and has planned or completed six projects in Oakland and San Francisco, according to its website.

— Dana Bartholomew

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