Building the Future - Residential and Commercial Development Changing The Face of the City
Mar 26, 2016 11:25AM
● By Pam Kessler
Do you remember when Security National Bank President Pete Stark installed an eight-foot peace symbol sign on his high-rise building at South Main and Newell Avenue? It caused quite a stir in 1971. Or when the Walnut Creek BART station opened in 1973 sparking a growth spurt as more people flocked to our city to live near a train station? The winds of development were already shifting as nervous residents pled with city leaders to limit growth. We know that some were imagining a different future for Walnut Creek even amid the “boom years” of the 70s.
How will our city look like over the next few years? While we love our big footprint properties, the march to urbanize and maximize density on smaller parcels of land has found traction. Our “new” suburbia includes transit-oriented multi-family developments in close proximity to the BART station. Soon we will have an estimated 5,000 new residents living in newly-constructed apartments and condominiums downtown—adding to the official count of 66,900 who live in the incorporated areas of Walnut Creek and another 18,284 who reside in the unincorporated “islands” of the city.
Other big projects include the new youth sports complex happening in Shadelands Business Park, the remodel and construction of Encina Grande Shopping Center, to make way for a new Whole Foods Market, redevelopment of Rossmoor Shopping Center, 50-plus new single family homes on Tice Valley Boulevard, and Hall Equities’ mixed-use development on Boulevard Way.
SHADELANDS BUSINESS PARK GROWS UP
Three major projects are jumpstarting a resurgence.
By Peggy Spear
For years, the Shadelands Business Park and its surrounding areas in northeastern Walnut Creek have seemed like the city's poor stepchild, a collection of strip malls and fading business part at the busy intersection of Ygnacio Valley and Oak Grove Roads.
All of that is about to change, thanks to three major projects infusing much-needed life — not to mention tax dollars — into Shadelands Business Park and jumpstarting a resurgence that began a few years ago with the addition of Muir Orthopedics and Children's Hospital. You can already see the changes happening, as construction of The Orchards, a mixed-use development anchored by a new Safeway, is swiftly progressing, along with Viamonté at Walnut Creek, the area’s first Continuing Care Retirement Community for seniors.
A HARD SELL
Traditionally, the Shadelands has been a hard sell for relocating companies who prefer the easier commute to San Ramon or Concord. The traffic on Ygnacio Valley Road is legendary, and until recently, area amenities such as restaurants have not supported a growing workforce. This has led to a 33 percent vacancy rate in Shadelands, says Colliers International Executive Vice President Jeffrey Weil, who has been leasing office space in the business park for 40 years.
Despite the presence of major tenants like Kaiser and Del Monte Foods, "the world has grown up and the Shadelands hasn't kept up," Weil says. Even with its affordability — especially compared to San Francisco and even downtown Walnut Creek — Shadelands appeals only to companies whose customer base lives near the area.
"Over the next 48 months this 40-year-old, 246-acre corporate destination will transform into an innovative, multi-use Walnut Creek community, with a new website and branding, free BART shuttle service and two multi-million dollar projects currently under construction," says attorney Angela de la Housaye, chair of the Shadelands Business Park Steering Committee. Her group is comprised of Shadeland’s business owners who advocate for change and growth.
At the heart is Hall Equities Group’s transformation of the former Contra Costa Times building into a massive athletic complex called SportsPlex anchored by The Ultimate Fieldhouse. Excel Basketball, Flight Elite and ASA Basketball are collaborating on the project and bringing their athletic tenure to the recreation space. “There's definitely a need for a safe and secure place for parents to send their kids for competition and training," says Mike Samuels, CEO of Ultimate Fieldhouse. Now open, the 40,000-square-foot Ultimate Fieldhouse will run camps and competitions on its four full courts for basketball and volleyball players.
SportsPlex will also house Encore Gymnastics, Copa Reál Soccer Centre, the American Swim Academy and Sparta Taekwondo School along with a restaurant (where parents can hang-out while waiting for their kids.) A portion of the CC Times property has been leased to a skilled nursing facility, Plum Health Care, the largest skilled nursing care provider west of the Mississippi.
With diverse developments, retailers and enterprises opening, it’s safe to say the business park has come a long way. Last year, the Shadelands Business Park property owners voted for a Property Business Improvement District (PBID), in essence taxing themselves and creating an annual budget of $385,000 for projects: beautification, signage and a local police presence. A portion of the PBID or $80,000 subsidizes bus service to and from the Contra Costa Transit Village/Pleasant Hill BART station.
"The whole vibe is more energized," says Rocco Biale, owner of Rocco's Pizzeria across the street in Encina Grande shopping plaza. "This will be a different place by the fall of 2016," he says. "A lot of people complain about the added traffic, but we will adapt. We always do." Stay up to date on the changes at shadelands.org.
THE NEW SUBURBS
Throughout Walnut Creek’s neighborhoods big footprint properties will continue to appeal, but the march to maximize density on smaller parcels has begun.
In a turn of events that shocked many, in 2011 the board of directors abruptly closed the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center on Tice Valley Boulevard in Walnut Creek. Lagging fundraising and declining membership were blamed when the six-acre community center shut down. Adjacent to the JCC stands the Tice Valley Gymnasium leased to the city of Walnut Creek by the JCC.
Since that time, the JCC has remained vacant, while the Walnut Creek City Council has debated whether or not to allow the land owned by the JCC (other than Tice Valley Gym) to be developed into a new residential community.
Despite opposition from area residents, who opposed the size and density of the project and potential to alter the character of the semi-rural neighborhood, in December the WC City Council approved the Trellis by Pulte Homes—a 53 single-family home project on 5.28 acres on Tice Valley Road.
Farm to Table
A unique component of the Pulte “Trellis” project is the integration of urban gardening by Farmscape, an Oakland-based company contracted to design, install and maintain edible gardens throughout the property giving residents access to fresh produce. Since its inception in 2008, Farmscape has installed over 400 urban farms. Trellis will be Walnut Creek’s first farm-to-table community.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
The changing landscape of the Saranap District
By Peggy Spear
In an area west of the downtown, the semi-rural Saranap neighborhood is tucked between Lafayette and Walnut Creek, left largely untouched by development. Once a thriving railroad hub and commercial district, this unincorporated area of Walnut Creek gained much attention in 2013 over construction of the massive Sufism Reoriented domed sanctuary. Now Hall Equities Group plans to give the area a new look and a cohesive center with construction of a mixed-use development on Boulevard Way between Flora and Saranap Avenues.
"The proposed Saranap Village plan aims to create a pedestrian-friendly community with a unique identity and easy access to local amenities," says Deb Karbo, Senior Vice President of Development for Hall Equities Group. The project calls for 196 multi-family units, 22,261-square-feet of ground level retail and restaurants in four distinct buildings. Retail highlights include a high-quality grocer and the popular Philz Coffee Shop. The residential component includes apartments as well as for-sale condominiums and townhomes, Karbo says. A focal point is a landscaped roundabout featuring a 30-foot-high public art sculpture.
Hall Equities Group has been acquiring properties along Boulevard Way for several years seeing the "unrealized potential" of the neighborhood. With its close proximity to the I-680/Highway 24 interchange, the Saranap District provides easy access to many destinations making it a highly desirable place to live, Karbo says.
The Saranap Village project has undergone many changes since first proposed in 2013 and has been significantly downsized in an effort to comply with county zoning and address neighbors concerns about the height and density of the project.
"The county studied the project in a Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) it prepared and published in September 2014," Karbo says. "Since then, Hall Equities Group has listened to the neighborhood and designed a new alternative plan that reflects community requests. Our new proposed plan reduces the height and mass of two of the buildings compared to the original project. We are confident the latest plans will enhance the Saranap community by providing a place to live, shop, and gather with friends."
While some members of the Saranap Homeowners Organization remain concerned about some of the building heights, others are thrilled with the "new life" the project will bring to the neighborhood. "We are very pleased with the project," says Bob Carpenter, project director of the Sufism Reoriented Sanctuary located down the block from the proposed Saranap Village. "This neighborhood can use an upgrade," Carpenter says. For more information, visit saranapvillage.com.
In 1935, parking meters were invented in Oklahoma City to force the turn-over of parking spaces. Oakland, Berkeley and Walnut Creek were some of the first cities in the country to follow suit and install parking meters in downtown shopping districts.
As the resident and visitor populations continue to grow downtown, Walnut Creek city officials understand the need to expand and enhance downtown parking options. According to Deputy City Manager Matt Huffaker, recent changes in meter rates and hours achieved the goal of motivating downtown employees to use public parking garages instead of street parking at meters. But these changes have also led to packed city garages. Huffaker says the city is actively seeking land for construction of a new city-owned parking garage. The problem: not much available vacant land downtown, and it’s expensive. Funding for the new garage will come from the Downtown Enterprise Fund — $8 million per year that the city grosses in revenue from meters, garages and enforcement fees.
BART’s $9.6 billion proposal to overhaul its aging rail system includes increasing its fleet size by 775-1000 cars, replacing tracks, upgrading stations and adding maintenance centers. At a Walnut Creek Civic Affairs meeting last fall, Gail Murray, BART board member District One, said BART has $4.8 billion to fund the system-wide upgrades but needs to raise additional capital for the balance. The transportation company plans to do this through state and federal resources as well as asking Contra Costa County voters to approve Measure J on the 2016 ballot which extends the .05 percent sales tax initiative.
BY THE NUMBERS
430,000 people ride BART each day
8200 riders on BART travel through the Caldecott Tunnel during AM rush hour
9670 passengers in cars travel through the Caldecott Tunnel during AM rush hour
159,000 number of cars BART estimates it keeps off the road each day
22,000 number of passengers on BART trains travelling across Bay during rush hour
14,200 number of cars travelling across the Bay Bridge during rush hour
669 number of passenger cars currently in operation
3,200 number of BART employees
200+ number of BART police