Over the past year, there has been meeting after meeting after meeting about the new zoning, and to be honest, I kind of got bored of writing about it after a while, because it was just the exact same people fighting about the exact same things over and over and over again. The OHA wants insane height limits everywhere near any historic building, which, in downtown, is everywhere. CALM wants only miniature buildings anywhere near the Lake (well, the part of the Lake they care about, anyway), and thinks that all the tall buildings currently lining the Lake were a “mistake.” The OBA wants skyscrapers everywhere. dto510 wants them to just stop talking and pass the damn thing already. At one point, someone decided the best way to deal with the issue was for the City to host a pow-pow facilitated by a San Leandro City Councilmember where everyone could sit around and talk about their feelings. (“You say you hate development because tall buildings are ugly and you think they impinge on your personal space, but let’s get deeper. What’s this really about?”) I’m sure you will all be shocked to learn that this helped basically not at all.
Due to work conflicts, I was only able to ever attend two and a half of the meetings on the issue, each of which I found exceedingly frustrating and pointless, and from what I’ve heard about the 14-odd other meetings, I don’t feel like I missed particularly much. Eventually, the ZUC decided they’d have enough of debating the exact same thing, and agreed to let the proposal take its next step forward. Wednesday night’s Planning Commission hearing (PDF) won’t be the end of the zoning update, but it could be the end of zoning update on Wednesdays. If the Commissioners decide they’re satisfied with the proposal, it will move on to the City Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee, who will undoubtedly want to tinker with it before they then move it on to the full City Council.
Rezoning downtown is a pretty huge deal, as these regulations will guide the future growth of the densest part of Oakland, one of the region’s largest employment centers, and the transportation nexus of the Bay Area. In many ways the new proposed zoning (PDF) will be an improvement. In other ways, not so much. Let’s take a look.
The zoning proposal will create four new Central Business District zoning areas, creatively named CBD-R, CBD-P, CBD-C, and CBD-X. In addition to governing what physical space can be built, zoning also governs how spaces are to be used. These rules are why Bakesale Betty or Chip Johnson’s favorite bike shop have to jump through hoops to open their door. The use chart is too big to make into a useful graphic, but it you can find it here (PDF), and it applies to everything from surface parking lots (to be banned everywhere) to gas stations (only allowed some places) to coffee shops (allowed pretty much everywhere). Each of the four zones has its own unique list of permitted and conditionally permitted uses. The zones are characterized as follows:
CBD-Residential: Upper stories in this zones are reserved for apartments and condos. It allows for a variety of ground-floor uses, but businesses in the zone, not matter what they are, will be small (anything over 7,500 sf requires a conditional use permit).
CBD-Pedestrian: This zone is all about the shopping. Pretty ground-floor retail space is mandated, with a choice of commercial or residential on top. 70% ground-floor transparency, minimum 14 foot ground-floor heights, and a maximum setback of five feet are included to ensure a pleasant pedestrian experience.
CBD-Commercial: You can do pretty much anything you want on the ground floor here, as long as nobody’s sleeping there. Residential (as well as commercial) is allowed in upper stories, but the street is reserved for office, retail, or services.
Each zone has distinct requirements for transparency, setbacks, and so on.
The map below illustrates where each zone would apply.
Click here (PDF) to download the zoning map.
So, on top of the zoning map, you also have 7 unique areas each with their own height, bulk, and intensity requirements. Two height areas, reserved mostly for historic districts, allow limited construction. In the remaining five height areas, each building is to have two distinct elements, a full base against the street with a narrower, set-back tower on top.
The distinct limits for each height area are outlined in the chart below.
You can see where each height area applies on this map.
Click here (PDF) to download the height map.
Okay, that’s probably enough to digest for today. You’ve got the fundamentals here, come back tomorrow for my take on what this all means for downtown.