Oakland apartment building approved after delays

Roughly+300+new+apartments+may+soon+come+onto+the+Central+Oakland+housing+market%2C+following+approval+Tuesday+from+the+City+Planning+Commission.+The+commission+voted+unanimously+at+its+Tuesday+meeting+to+greenlight+an+apartment+building+at+3500+Forbes+Ave.%2C+on+the+site+of+the+former+Marathon+gas+station.

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Roughly 300 new apartments may soon come onto the Central Oakland housing market, following approval Tuesday from the City Planning Commission. The commission voted unanimously at its Tuesday meeting to greenlight an apartment building at 3500 Forbes Ave., on the site of the former Marathon gas station.

By Jon Moss, Editor-in-Chief

Roughly 300 new apartments may soon come onto the Central Oakland housing market, following approval Tuesday from the City Planning Commission.

The commission voted unanimously at its Tuesday meeting to greenlight an apartment building at 3500 Forbes Ave., on the site of the former Marathon gas station. The approval followed lively discussion surrounding the project.

Community members have raised concerns about a variety of project aspects, including how the project’s roughly several hundred units — all at market rate — could affect the neighborhood’s housing market. Representatives from Family House — a local nonprofit that houses medical patients and their families, which neighbors the project site — also asked whether the building could cause noise disturbances or exhaust that might be harmful for patients recovering from certain procedures.

Representatives from CA Ventures, a global real estate company, have discussed the project at two Oakland Planning and Development Corp. meetings — one last August and another this past December. The project — which would be similar to the recently constructed Bridge on Forbes and SkyVue buildings — would stand at 102 feet tall and include 300 units, split among studios, one-, two- and three-bedrooms, as well as 212 parking spaces and a 153-space bike storage room.

Kevin McKeegan, of Meyer, Unkovic & Scott LLP, said the project team had re-examined the project and reduced the height of the building’s “jut-out” next to Family House by two stories, or about 20 feet.

“We think this addresses the architectural concerns that were raised at the last meeting regarding a building looming, so to speak, over the Family House site,” McKeegan said.

McKeegan added that the project team has reached “an agreement in principle” with Family House about “other items of concern,” including allowing the nonprofit to utilize some of the building’s parking garage spaces, supporting some of the nonprofit’s design costs to construct a new building, as well as shared use of the building’s proposed pedestrian walkway.

“These understandings need to be documented and they will be documented within the next 30 days,” McKeegan said.

Ryan Wotus, of Goldberg, Kamin & Garvin, LLP, said based upon the project team’s revisions, Family House is now “generally supportive” of the project.

The commission also discussed another Oakland-centric item on Tuesday — Pitt’s institutional master plan, which will guide University construction for the next 10 to 25 years.

Owen Cooks, the assistant vice chancellor for planning, design and real estate, discussed various developments and redevelopments included in the plan, such as those on the eastern edge of campus, in the Schenley Plaza area, as well as on the western part of campus near UPMC Presbyterian hospital. His briefing Tuesday was the third of the four scheduled.

Commissioner Becky Mingo noted the importance of so-called respite areas of benches so pedestrians can rest while climbing many of Oakland’s many steep hills, including near Victoria Hall. Commissioner Holly Dick later said she thinks a “primary principle” of the IMP should be to have respite areas.

Cooks responded briefly and added that Pitt plans to come back with a “more thoughtful response” to several items raised by commissioners across the IMP briefings, including “setbacks and traversing the hill” along the western edge of campus.

Mingo also brought up the proposed addition to Posvar Hall, which would replace the pedestrian plaza that currently runs alongside South Bouquet Street, and asked about the public space that would be removed by way of the addition and the plan more generally.

Cooks said it isn’t possible to point to a “one-to-one relationship” between outdoor space added and removed through the IMP. He added that it’s important to focus not only on the raw amount of space that’s changing but also the “quality” of the space.

Christine Mondor, the commission’s chair, said she was concerned about the proposed 120-foot height of the Posvar addition, both that it could create a “backdoor” feel to that part of campus and how it would relate to nearby housing.

Cooks said the University has had “quite a thick conversation” with the neighborhood about the project, which is why the initial Central Oakland housing development was ultimately removed from the IMP. He added that Pitt didn’t want to get ahead of itself, and wished to leave some boxes unchecked while the City’s neighborhood planning process for Oakland remains underway.

The University will brief the commission for the last time in two weeks. Its formal hearing is set for the commission’s April 20 meeting.

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