c05

First Phase of Long-awaited Walnut Creek BART Transit Village Breaks Ground

After more than two decades of planning, apartments are finally set to arrive at the Walnut Creek BART station.

Developers have started construction on the first 358 homes along with 14,500 square feet of retail as part of the first phase of the $380 million project. The 16-acre site is slated for a total of 596 homes and 26,000 square feet of retail.

The long-awaited project will bring a significant amount of dense housing next to transit, where it makes sense, said Lauren Seaver, vice president of development at Blake Griggs Properties, one of the developers on the transit village.

“People don’t choose where to live just because of transit,” she said. “They want to live there because it’s a great place to live and they can get to their jobs.”

The first phase is scheduled for completion in 2022. The second phase consisting of 238 apartments and 12,000 square feet of retail is expected to break ground in either by 2021.

Planning on the project started in the 1990s and went through a few developers including BRE Properties, which originally entitled the development in 2012.

The current team, Walnut Creek Transit Lifestyle Associates, came on board in 2015. The partnership includes Blake Griggs Properties and Transit Village Associates. The equity partner on the project is Mitsui Fudosan America, the New York-based U.S. subsidiary of the massive Japanese real estate company Mitsui Fudosan Co.

 

A long time coming

Developing projects on BART sites takes an exorbitantly long time, even by lengthy Bay Area standards. Transit villages at Walnut Creek and MacArthur in Oakland, where hundreds of apartments are now leasing up or under construction, took decades to move forward.

Construction of the apartments comes at a time when BART leaders want to encourage more housing on its land with some 200 acres available for development. The agency wants to encourage 20,000 homes and 4.5 million square feet of commercial space on its land by 2040.

Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed a new law, AB 2923, which aims to speed up the development process by establishing minimum development requirements around train stations and quickly greenlighting projects that fit those requirements.

“This is BART’s attempt to deal with two of the Bay Area’s biggest challenges: traffic and housing affordability,” said Chris Filippi, a BART spokesperson. “BART is anxious to work with developers and with communities. We know these are significant changes and we want to make sure the riders and people living in the communities have a say.”

The projects take longer because developers need approvals from BART and cities and have to negotiate complicated development and land deals, Seaver said. At the Walnut Creek, Blake Griggs bought one of the parcels from BART and signed a ground lease for another part. The developer also built a 900-stall parking garage to replace surface parking spaces.

Another delay comes from having to keep the stations open and functioning at the same time as construction is going on.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Seaver said. “Transit-oriented projects that are actually directly on the station are extraordinarily complex. The benefit of the location is what makes it worth it.”

Seaver said the new team revamped the design to make it more modern and pedestrian friendly with the addition of a walkway that cuts through the site.

The Walnut Creek experience

The goal is to make it easy to for BART riders to get to the station by foot, bike, bus and car, whereas in the past, the layout was mostly geared toward riders arriving by car.

The new apartment buildings, designed by BDE Architecture and built by Deacon Construction, will also include a 10,000-square-foot co-working lounge for residents who work from home. Seaver said some people who work in San Francisco or Oakland want the flexibility to work from home at least one day a week.

Walnut Creek is increasingly appealing to new residents because of its location, access to BART and freeways, access to outdoor recreation, parks, top-rated schools and retail, Seaver said.

The city, “has a great quality of life and downtown experience with shops and vibrancy,” she said.

Blake Griggs Properties is already putting that belief to the test with Vaya, a 178-unit apartment project at 1800 Lacassie Ave., located across the street from the BART station. Vaya is now 15 percent leased up.

Nearby, several other housing developments are in the works such as Anton DevCo.’s 135-unit 1919 Main St. that is under construction. 

“This is really the perfect location to put housing,” Seaver said. “People are increasingly aware of how important it is to build housing in the Bay Area.”