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Shorenstein should ask for more FAR

Before the media frenzy over Oakland’s third-tallest building, a long-entitled skyscraper at 12th and Jefferson, I blogged it and noted that the proposal takes advantage of the maximum allowable density. After yesterday’s Design Review Committee meeting, as well as Dellums’ oft-repeated (though erroneous) press release, it is clear that the building could use a density increase.

At the design review committee meeting, all four speakers (besides Sanjiv Handa, who bemoaned downtown Oakland’s lack of parking and dumped on the Art & Soul Festival) lived in the 102-unit condo complex across the street from Shorenstein’s property. One speaker (who also represented Old Oakland Neighbors, a new community group founded by merchants) expressed concern over the character of the retail portion. Another asked for a shadow study (which was completed in 2000, actually), and several were concerned about the traffic impact of the loading dock located on MLK. Nobody complained about the size or scale of the tower, perhaps because its massing is concentrated as far from MLK as possible.

The commissioners supported staff’s call to make the building more distinctive in style from the other 12th street skyscrapers, all designed by the same architect as this project. Shorenstein unveiled a new design, with a more articulated wedge-top, and a green glass curtain-wall. Commissioner Doug Boxer suggested they make the entire facade glass, and implied that a more drawn-out, Art Deco-style top treatment would be better. Commissioner Madeleine Zayas-Mart repeatedly asserted that the building would look better if it were taller. Not only would a taller structure make the form slimmer and more distinctive than the surrounding towers of approximately the same height (555 12th and the Dellums Federal Building), but it would look more exciting on the skyline. However, Shorenstein representatives responded that the 25ksf floorplates (whose layout was praised by Committee Chair Suzy Lee) were optimal from a marketing perspective, and that they were constrained by density limits.

Ron Dellums took the time to trumpet Shorenstein’s proposal, not because he thought he would take credit for it, but because it represents hundreds if not thousands of jobs and lots of redevelopment tax revenue for the city. Given that nobody thinks a City Center skyscraper can be too big (especially since each floor houses 100 jobs), why should Oakland limit Shorenstein to 10.5 FAR? In fact, the General Plan calls for a FAR of 20 for the block, which would allow a building twice the height of what is proposed (approximately as high as SF’s tallest towers). While it would require a Conditional Use Permit and perhaps a new Environmental Impact Report (ouch), I think Shorenstein should ask for a few more floors.

UPDATE: Here’s a color rendering:


Posted in dellums, news, oakland, planningcommission.

10 Responses

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  1. V Smoothe says

    555 is 279 feet. A difference of 100 feet isn’t really “approximately the same height,” is it?

  2. dto510 says

    The 100-foot difference isn’t as much as one would think. As you wrote yesterday, focusing on stories rather than total height masks the fact that office buildings have higher ceilings than residential towers, so from the skyline height is all that matters. But I’m coming from the perspective of looking at the project from street level.

    Most of the 100-foot height difference is due to the projecting element on the roofline, which, as staff said, is “too subtle.” The primary mass of the building is only two stories taller than 555. To look sufficiently distinct from its neighbors, the new tower should have significantly more floors (five or ten), not just a sculptural roof. I also think it would help the skyline to have building mass, and not just decoration, projecting up from City Center.

  3. Ryan Tate says

    They are obligated to start building there by 2009 or have to give land back to the city — early, mid or late 09 I’m not sure, but in any case that’s quite a compressed timeframe to do an EIR or even get a CUP. Add in the fact they have their financing lined up it’s not likely they would do this.

    Also, given the similarities between the Shorenstein press release and the Dellums office press release, I’m not sure how much work the Dellums office put into trumpeting this (though I am not disagreeing about the worthiness of the project).

  4. dto510 says

    If Shorenstein can get a determination that there’s no need for a new EIR (if not, they would only have to do a supplement), given the lack of opposition to the project, I don’t see why a minor density bonus to bring the project closer to the General Plan (a CUP) should take very long – certainly less than a year. Adding only three stories would be enough to make the tower distinctive on the skyline and from the ground

    This underscores a major problem. Oakland’s Smart Growth General Plan means nothing if developers have to jump through hoops in order to meet its goals. Theoretically, a FAR of 20 for the lot means Shorenstein could build a tower to rival 101 California. But the older 10.5 FAR constrains their options.

    The error in the release makes me think Dellums’ office, not Shorenstein, wrote it, but who knows? In any event, there’s a clear consensus about the desirability of large-scale office construction downtown. I hope the mayor greets every skyscraping proposal this warmly.

  5. V Smoothe says

    The projection only rises 50 feet above the primary mass of the building. Since when did half become “most”?

  6. dto510 says

    I don’t have the figures on the redesigned projection that was presented at Wednesday’s meeting.

  7. V Smoothe says

    Are you suggesting that the redesigned projection included shorter building mass? That wasn’t my impression at all.

  8. dto510 says

    No, I am not suggesting that.

    Ultimately, this is an aesthetic issue, which I am only trumpeting because it was the opinion of the city’s design review committee and would also add several hundred jobs to the area. A visually-significant increase in primary building height (five stories rather than two), as well as an interesting top treatment, would be the optimal appearance from the skyline as well as making it distinctive enough to be a vibrant neighborhood presence.

  9. V Smoothe says

    I’d like to see a taller building as well. I’m not arguing about that, I’m just trying to understand what you mean by that particular statement.

  10. dto510 says

    Well, that’s what I mean. I mean that, with the current design, the buildings appear to be of similar heights.