Density rules and mechanisms to encourage development of public amenities were among topics discussed at last Wednesday's joint meeting of the Oakland Planning Commission and the Landmarks Preservation Board.
Stakeholders and staff members voiced differing opinions on appropriate limits for building height and floor area ratio (or FAR), which expresses the ratio between a building's lot size and its total floor area. The current draft plan sets allows height limits higher than 400 feet, and FARs as high as 20.
While proponents argued that high density limits could raise land value and incentivize new development, activists reminded planners of the need to ensure public amenities like affordable housing, open space, community centers, and resources for small businesses.
The current draft plan includes a mechanism by which developers might be granted exceptions to height limits and FAR in exchange for providing such amenities. Members of the public voiced concerns that, if the density limits were set too high, future development might be lacking in public benefits.
A study conducted by Strategic Economics Inc. and commissioned by the Oakland Heritage Alliance and the Oakland Chinatown Coalition found low-density development to be the most feasible and economically beneficial approach to development in the area, when compared with higher-density options. Based on that report, the OHA and the Chinatown Coalition both suggested that the FAR be set at 2.5 and the height limits at 45-55 feet for most of the plan area.
Planning staff, however, took the position that the height limits and FAR should be kept as-is. According to staff, height limits have already been lowered to below the existing limits allowed under the current zoning. Additionally, they argued that further lowering the height limits might put the area at a "competitive disadvantage" in relation to the rest of the city.
The planning staff has commissioned its own study from to determine the feasibility of lowering height restrictions and FAR in the city more broadly, and has said that future decisions on the matter would be informed by the findings. The study will be carried out by architecture, planning, and engineering firm AECOM and the results are expected by June.
Unrelatedly, one speaker and Planning Commission member Michael Colbruno voiced enthusiasm for a proposal to change the name of the Lake Merritt BART Station to "Chinatown/Laney College".
The Strategic Economics Study commissioned by the Oakland Heritage Alliance and the Oakland Chinatown Coalition can be seen at:
More information on the Lake Merritt Station Area Plan can be found at http://www2.oaklandnet.com/Government/o/PBN/OurOrganization/PlanningZoning/DOWD008198
To sign up for email updates relating to the plan, send contact info to: Lake_merritt_plan@oaklandnet.com
The Planning Department also maintains a message line at: 510.238.7904