So the new CBD Zoning (PDF) is going to the Zoning Update Committee again today, and the recommendations continue to be completely bizarre, overly complicated, and completely unconcerned with the historic character of downtown (in fact, on Monday’s downtown walking tour, at one point someone asked strategic planner Neil Gray, who was explaining the code to the group, which of the 8 or so buildings we were looking at right then would be permitted under the new code, and he was forced to admit that not a single one of them conformed).
I’ve said all this before. What I want to talk about today is tower and base. The form being dictated by the proposed code is terrible. I’m sorry, it’s just awful. I simply cannot understand why anyone would think it’s a good idea in the first place, and I absolutely cannot understand why, after seeing this silly design model month after month after month, the Committee members have not asked staff to eliminate it.
So in case you haven’t been following the discussion, this is what the form-based aspect of the proposed new zoning code does: buildings have a maximum allowable base height and also a maximum allowable tower height. The idea here is that all new buildings will have a wide base on the street, but that the tall portion of the building will have a narrower tower. In the maximum height area, buildings are described as having “unlimited” heights. What is unlimited is the height of the tower – the base of the building has a maximum height of 120 feet.
On Monday’s walking tour, Gray pointed out the new Madison Lofts building as a “model” of what the new zoning is trying to achieve.
So you see how the bottom of the building goes all the way out to the sidewalk, and then the bulk of the building is smaller, so the upper floors are not flush with the sidewalk? Under the proposed code, all new buildings are supposed to look like that. And what I still cannot understand is why? Do people really think that this building is better because the tower is set back from the sidewalk? Unlike practically every other building in the neighborhood, the bulk of the building mass is not flush with the street – in what way does this improve the pedestrian experience? Who benefits from this? Is there really anyone who finds this shape aesthetic pleasing? I really, really, really just don’t understand why we would even consider dictating this very specific and very ugly form for every new building downtown. Who is benefitting? Who? And where in the LUTE is there any justification for doing this, because I sure as hell can’t find it.
The key to creating a pleasant streetscape and pleasant pedestrian experience is demanding quality ground floor treatments and design. I think, when you’re walking past the windows on the 14th Street side of this building, that it’s pretty pleasant. And I certainly don’t see how it would be less pleasant is the rest of the building was the same size as the ground floor portion. It seems to me that the only thing the tower/base regulations really achieve is a reduction of potential density, and I really don’t think it should be our goal to limit density in the Central Business District, home of 3 BART stations and most of the major bus lines in town, and Oakland’s best hope creating future employment opportunities and tax base growth. That’s like, exactly the opposite of what the General Plan says to do.
For a building roughly this size, the tower/base form is pointless, but relatively inoffensive. I mean, I think it sucks that the Madison Lofts are smaller than they need to be, but life goes on. But for larger buildings – well, frankly, it just looks stupid. For example, we started the tour at that huge surface parking lot at 14th and Jackson in front of the post office – the one where Chauncey Bailey was murdered. Gray explained that the proposed code for that lot would allow a base of 85 feet (the maximum base height for Height Area 4 has now been reduced from 100 feet to 85 feet for reasons beyond my comprehension), topped with a narrow tower of as much as 400 feet.
Again – why would anyone want to do this? Has anyone thought about what this is going to make downtown look like?
Think of the Trib Tower. Now imagine that the shorter part of the base was the same and the tower portion was like, twice as tall. That’s what we’re talking about. An exagerated version of what we’re talking about (nobody would build a tower so skinny now), but still, that’s the idea. Do people really think that would look good? I mean, I like the Trib Tower as much as the next girl – it’s fine to have a handful of buildings like that, they add some visual interest, I suppose. But do we really want every new building downtown to look like that? Do we really think that’s going “enhance” our skyline? Do we honestly think that this will make downtown a more pleasant place to be? Sigh. I just don’t get it.
Oh, and for those of you keeping score at home, the staff report (PDF) is once again wrong about the heights of existing buildings. On page 3 of the report, the description of Issue Area 1 claims that the buildings in the lakeside area south of 14th Street, like the County Courthouse and the Library, are between 40 at 87 feet in height. I swear, they tried to pull this with the Courthouse last meeting, too. Hi, folks – it’s a twelve story building. It isn’t 80 feet tall. In fact, according to CEDA’s own map (PDF), the Courthouse is 220 feet tall.
- 07.16.08: An Alternative CBD Zoning Update
- 07.15.08: Can you make laws about building heights when you don’t know how tall buildings are?
- 05.21.08: CBD, back at ZUC
- 04.17.08: CBD Zoning Update Update
- 03.20.07: CBD at the ZUC
- 03.17.08: Zoning from Mars
- 03.02.08: Planning Commission approves new tallest building in Oakland – in December