*First, thanks so much to everyone who offered input on 25A Orinda Way to the Planning Department, and who attended the four hour (!!!) meeting on Tuesday night.*
Tuesday evening the planning commission reviewed the most recent plans for 25A Orinda Way. For those who are new to the planning process, in a nutshell, here’s how it works. The Planning Department Staff works with applicants to pull together their proposals. Then, Staff and the applicant present plans to the six-person Planning Commission (volunteer citizens) who then votes “yay or nay” on proposed projects.
In the case of 25A Orinda Way, Staff recommended a course of action based on their review of the proposed plan prior to the meeting - in this case the December 8 planning study session that we covered. In what seemed like an easy recommendation, Staff suggested that the Commission approve Tandem’s proposal for 25A Orinda Way, including some variances (on parking), exemptions (on property setbacks), issue a commercial use permit and sign off on the design. Easy enough, you say? Well not so fast, said the Commissioners… they had plenty more feedback and asked the developer to return and present revisions on Tuesday, March 22.
Here is our play-by-play.
Building to the Lot Line
On the issue of the “Zero Setback” exemption: the project will be built nearly to the lot line on all four sides. City code requires a ten foot setback. This exemption is easy enough to grant on three of the four sides (sides and rear). The commission raised the concern, however, that on the street side, a narrow sidewalk poses a challenge for pedestrian pass through.
Several “pinch points” were identified. These are spots where trees, architecture and landscape features come together to narrow the sidewalk to the point where only one pedestrian could pass (and forget about that double Bob stroller). The commission pointed out that while the sidewalk would be no narrower than it is now, the anticipated increase in pedestrian use would put pressure on these pinch points.
The commission presented to the developer a few options to mitigate this problem. First, ground floor commercial space could be pushed back from the street and an “arcade” created to allow for pedestrian traffic. What's an arcade, you ask? See below.
Second (earmuffs if you love trees), some of the seven trees lining the sidewalk immediately in front of the building could be removed.
The commission pointed out that the second floor and rooftop parking would be highly visible without these trees and cautioned that some should remain to mitigate the visual scale of the structure and the appearance of the rooftop parking.
Both the commission and developer were open to suggestions that would bring back green to the streetscape. (If this were a text message we would insert a tree, hug, and smooch emogi.)
Third, it was suggested that perhaps the developer could remove the small-ish courtyard currently featured in the design (see below), and re-distribute that square footage as a setback or more sidewalk space, while preserving valuable retail square footage.
Parking, parking… and more parking
Quite a bit of the meeting was dedicated to the parking variance. With 69 parking stalls proposed, the project is five stalls short of the minimum number of stalls dictated by the size of the leased spaces. The mix of retail and restaurant tenants dictates the number needed, and that mix is in flux as tenants have not been identified. If there are more restaurants, the project could be short up to roughly 30 spots.
Commissioner McGrath remarked that if there are not enough spaces in this lot, then we have a successful development on our hands. Agreed.
While the commission didn’t seem to take issue with granting a parking variance, much discussion from the commission and the public commentary alike revolved around public versus paid parking. The Developer has proposed that the first 30 minutes would be free to the public, with 3 hour validation thereafter for those patronizing the building tenants. Those trying for all day BART Parking would have to pony up some real cash.
What Say You, Orinda?
When this item was opened to public comment, the overall consensus was that Orindans would like to see a new building on this lot and that they are excited that there is a project on the table. But there were concerns too:
- The commercial leasing plan. Both the Commission and the community are eager to learn who we might expect to see join the downtown retail and restaurant mix. The proposal shows 5 spaces ranging in size from 4,000 square feet to 1800 square feet. For some perspective, Loard’s is approximately 700 square feet and Europa is 4,500 square feet. These are big spaces that will need big retailers and restauranteurs but so far, the Developer has remained mum on who they plan to lease to (although they mentioned a mix of national chains and smaller businesses would likely be necessary).
- The scale of the building and that the developers are ”squeezing a lot onto a little” relative to the lot.
- Sensitivity to The Vintage House: the owner of the Vintage House (the brick office building behind 25A Orinda Way) expressed concern about the design of rear elevation of the building and how his tenant’s views would be impacted. There also seemed to be some confusion regarding the shared driveway on the North side of the building, and whether terms had been agreed upon between the owner of Vintage House and the applicant.
- Have the nearby PG&E power lines, and the resulting limitations and safety concerns they come with, been fully factored into the design?
- Seismic safety, given the weight of 69 vehicles atop a building of this size. "You just don't do that in earthquake country."
- Disappointment that story poles aren’t being required of the developers. "How else can the community know what's being proposed?"
- Bike parking: the applicant has agreed to add six additional bike parking stalls to the required four, for a total of ten stalls. Where these will go has yet to be finalized.
The developers have until March 22 to address the design concerns posed by the Commission and we hope they address the Community's concerns too.
While motion to further this discussion at that time may seem like a setback, this is progress by Orinda’s standards.
The discussion remains open, and we encourage anyone with feedback on this project to email Derek Farmer at the Planning Department (firstname.lastname@example.org) and CC Tiffany Morlin (email@example.com). This is your community, speak up and get involved!