CBD Zoning, no longer at ZUC

Over a full year after it first appeared at the Zoning Update Committee, the Oakland Central Business District zoning update will come before the full Planning Commission tomorrow night.

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 Map

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.

  • CBD-X: Whatever.

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.

The height 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.

5 thoughts on “CBD Zoning, no longer at ZUC

  1. Max Allstadt

    While your at it, tomorrow you might consider adding in a point-by-point correction of every factual error in Chip Johnson’s column today. Ugh. No pressure on him to get it right, because nobody cares about this topic, I guess.

    I’m still baffled that they keep presenting this map with no context. How is anyone supposed to evaluate what’s going on on the outskirts of the CBD map… when the map shows the end of the world at the end of the CBD. There is land beyond the boundaries, with the exception of the lake to the east.

    There is land south of the CBD, with buildings and zoning that needs to relate in some way to the CBD. There is land to the west, that also needs to relate. The CBD is repeatedly shown as an island. Great. If we don’t figure out how to tie it in to it’s surroundings, it will stay isolated, and any growth crated downtown will have a hard time spreading out.

    Look at the north boundary. 23rd street. This map dead ends there, which is insane. 23rd street is skinny and tiny. It is in no way a reasonable boundary. Push it north to 27th. Or at least show us how the tower that’s entitled on the south side of 23rd between Telegraph and Valley will relate to the one and two story buildings to the north. Crazy.

    So, yeah. Message: CBD is not an island. Stop drawing it that way. Stop thinking about it that way.

  2. John Klein

    We’ve been begging the City for models to prove their tower-base design at Lakeside Drive really works, i.e., that 170′ towers on 55′ bases will preserve views while allowing tall buildings. Of course, the City claims that it lacks funding to create models. I suspect the City knows that models will prove that the tower-base design doesn’t work – for either protecting views or for providing real development opportunities. The City wins but everyone else loses.

  3. David

    keep on restricting things and you’ll get less business. Instead of figuring all the things that people can’t build downtown, how about allowing anything, and then figuring out if it doesn’t “work.” I’d bet we’d get more jobs and people downtown if the city council laid off for once.