Bay Area Transit Agencies Build on Parking Lots

202 housing units are now under construction on Caltrain's former San Carlos Station parking lot. Image: City of San Carlos
202 housing units are now under construction on the former San Carlos Caltrain Station parking lot. Image: City of San Carlos

Last Thursday representatives from Caltrain, the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) presented [PDF] current plans for building housing and offices on top of station parking lots, at the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) in downtown San Jose. Rail station parking lots offer the ultimate in “Good TOD” – Transit Oriented Development that guarantees new transit riders while providing housing and commercial space that can be conveniently reached car-free.

“There are many beautiful sites along Caltrain that could be ripe for development and become a revenue generating source for Caltrain,” said Caltrain Principal Planner Jill Gibson. “Often developers goals are in direct conflict with transit needs…so it’s imperative that we identify long-range transportation goals early on.”

Caltrain is working with those cities that have already completed station area redevelopment plans and adopted appropriate TOD zoning near stations to support mixed-use developments. The long-debated San Carlos Transit Village, now under construction, will bring 202 apartments to the former San Carlos Caltrain Station parking lot along with 26,000 square feet of commercial space. The project was scaled down in multiple iterations from a proposed 453 apartments.

A long-term lease agreement is now being negotiated with Sares Regis Group to develop 100 to 150 apartments on the Hayward Park Station parking lot, along with at least 50 parking spaces available to Caltrain passengers, 29 electronic bike lockers, and space for six SamTrans buses.

BART and VTA are developing real estate at their stations on a much larger scale than Caltrain. BART has already built several major developments on its parking lots [PDF] and is “engaged in 18 transit-oriented development projects at its stations, representing over $2.7 billion in private investment” according to the agency’s property development website.

The Mandela Transit Village is a $900 million housing, office, and retail development proposal for the West Oakland BART Station. Image: BART
The Mandela Transit Village is a $900 million housing, office, and retail development proposal for the West Oakland BART Station. Image: BART

“There’s a capacity within a quarter-mile of BART stations to create 40,000 new housing units,” said BART Property Development Department Manager Sean Brooks. “We could have a big impact on how the region is shaped.”

BART has recently completed major mixed-use developments at several East Bay stations, including Fruitvale, Richmond, Castro Valley, and Pleasant Hill. As the rail system is extended south towards San Jose, BART and VTA are planning for thousands of housing units and jobs withing walking distance of the new stations. The Warm Springs Station Area in south Fremont, where BART will begin running trains later this year, has been rezoned to allow up to 4,000 housing units and an estimated 20,000 jobs in 11.6 million square feet of new commercial and industrial space.

VTA lists 23 sites stretching from Mountain View to Gilroy in its joint development portfolio, most of them VTA Light Rail and Caltrain station parking lots. The agency is also looking to create new development sites as BART, Light Rail, and Bus Rapid Transit lines are extended in the future.

“Our goal is to create mixed-use and mixed-income TOD,” said VTA Deputy Director of Real Estate Ron Golem. “We are absolutely trying to generate as much revenue as we can from joint development because we see those revenues as a way of funding transit improvements. We’re working cooperatively with the City of San Jose about how we can utilize value capture strategies as part of financing the BART [to Silicon Valley] Phase II extension.”

Golem cited existing zoning regulations as a major hurdle to transforming transit parking lots into mixed-use developments. One site that VTA is eyeing to build on, a 75-space parking lot at Evelyn Light Rail Station in Mountain View to which the agency ceased light rail service in March 2015, isn’t zoned for high-density development and so would require an amendment of the city’s General Plan. Such a project would however not be “transit-oriented” without the light rail transit service formerly available at the station.

“The main thing that we need to accomplish is a way of avoiding building really expensive parking structures because parking structures just work against your TOD goals,” concluded Golem.

One major station redevelopment project for which VTA completed an environmental review this Spring will bring 440 housing units to the Tamien Caltrain/VTA Station parking lot in San Jose. The agency is also building a 900-space parking structure there, where 275 spaces are available today.

  • JustJake

    OMG. “The long-debated San Carlos Transit Village, now under construction, will bring 202 apartments to the former San Carlos Caltrain Station parking lot along with 26,000 square feet of commercial space. The project was scaled down in multiple iterations from a proposed 453 apartments.”. Quick, somebody alert Hanlon & Trauss… here is another chance to file a lawsuit, grandstand, and generate AstroTurf publicity. Someone had the gall to downsize a housing project.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    This article doesn’t look very critically at BART’s claims to transit-oriented development. Of the mentioned opportunities, BART has built almost none in the last 15 years. The MacArthur Station transit village is planned to be 675 homes, and has been in planning for ten years. The only thing that’s actually been built in those 10 years is the 112 below-market-rate units, which started in 2013 and were completed in 2015. Literally not even a single shovelful of soil has been turned over toward the building of the other 563 units. It will probably be 2025 before they are done. I’m not exaggerating: 2025 is actually the planned completion date. That’s about 35 units per year, a rate that one person could build single-handedly with ordinary tools and a pickup truck.

    I don’t really want to call out BART’s directors personally, but what the fuck is wrong with them? Why can’t they get these projects built just a teensy bit faster? When I moved to the Bay Area in the 90s I was really optimistic about all the planned improvements, but it seems that it takes literally a lifetime to build even a handful of stick-built shoeboxes. This agency and the members of its board should be publicly excoriated for these squandered opportunities, and then, of course, be defeated in elections.

  • JustJake

    At MacArthur Bart, first they completed the new parking garage, to replace the existing slots that were surface parking. Then the low-income 112 units were completed last year. Robert-Obsyashi was the general contractor. The owners & architects were making changes during the course of construction, adding rooftop solar and various other changes, which slows things considerably when deviating from the original contracts. Simultaneously, the overall site work and access from the surrounding streets was carried out, and the joint trenching to feed utilities into the future units was installed, along with internal roads, sewers and storm drains. The remaining projects/units will be done in phases, and additional units will be ready for occupancy in waves, with final completion due in 2025 for the very last units. Sad, but this is the methodical nature of the current planning/approvals/bidding/construction in Oakland with current level seismic engineerng and inspection processes.

  • OaktownPRE

    I’ve watched all the new housing going up near the the Great Mall in Milpitas at the new Milpitas BART station and for some reason those apartments take months to go up, not years (decades) as has been the case at MacArthur BART. Milpitas has the same seismic standards as Oakland I’m sure and they put in the same sewers and streets. There’s something more going on at MacArthur than just that. I don’t know if it’s just an epic level of incompetence or what, but another ten years to fill in that parking lot it a joke.

  • AlanTobey

    Note to BART: the North Berkeley and Ashby stations have been available for housing-over-parking for about the last 45 years. In which decade do these fit in your aggressive plans?

  • JustJake

    I’ve been involved in both Milpitas and Oakland, and Hunters Point as well. 18 months from dirt work to occupancy is the norm for an 80-120 unit sized project. The planning/approval aspects are entirely separate. MacArthur is/was indeed a very slow project, for a plethora of reasons. Oaklands local hiring mandates are a real hurdle to productivity. Expect the remaining phases at MacArthur Bart to be completed in 18 months each.

  • JustJake

    Walnut Creek Bart has also had approved plans for housing directly on BART property for a few years. That alone does nothing. The determinate factor is whoever has the funding to cough up. Low income/BMR & senior housing units can get preferential financial incentives. Other type products, you’re on your own. BART doesn’t have/want/can’t afford ownership of the housing, they can really only facilitate the land availability.

  • crazyvag

    With TOD, how much less parking is built than with non-TOD that’s say a few miles away from a station. Don’t we still see high parking requirements like in the apartments built in Mountain View?

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Why does Oakland’s hire-local policy figure into it? Wouldn’t it be straight forward to slap a couple of easements or covenants on the title and sell the development rights to a private party? That seems to me like the path of least resistance. No private developer is going to sit on a prime site for decades like BART has.

  • JustJake

    Developers indeed will sit on a property, until the financing looks rosy. Everyone seems to think building projects of this size are easy & automatically profitable. That would be wrong. As far as Oakland hiring policies… the actual availability of competent skilled tradespeople in Oakland is low, and the hiring requirements are high. Contractors required to hire undertrained and unexperienced workers drives up the cost noticeably, and puts a big dent in productivity. Not all, but many of the local hires don’t really want to work, and think the employment is somehow by-right. It is what it is.

  • HorriblyConfused

    As somewhat alluded to in other comments, keep in mind that BART is not the developer for these sites. That said, your general criticism on slowness is likely very accurate. BART is the one who can start the development clock. Not sure if they have to do an RFP after they decide what they are doing…

    The affordable housing component could take 1-5 years to pull the funding together for from fed/state/local money depending on what they are trying to do. That can’t start until after getting site control from BART. I’m assuming it is a ground lease, but have no idea. Financing for market rate housing could be faster, but it is also not simple–and would likely require phased construction…. so you can roll construction loan to perm and/or use for-sale unit proceeds as a source for later phases.

    All said, a long process once it gets going. Probably made longer by stalling on decision making by BART. But I really don’t know much about BART processes.

  • 94110

    The San Carlos project can also be looked at as an attempt to prevent quad tracking HSR:

  • Martha Wang

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  • TOD development like this is exactly what’s needed. More building on parking lots next to transit please!

    A big downside: Yet more ugly generic buildings. In our short term-oriented rush for more housing, we’re overlooking the spread of Places Not Worth Caring About, buildings like this one. We’re letting developers get away with it. We deserve better.

  • Alex S

    Berkeley NIMBYist would never let those stations be developed. BART is smart to fight battles they can actually win.

  • lunartree

    I think the boring architecture is really more of a result of our strict review process. Everything has to be designed to offend no one.

  • ✧ The original whole point of TOD is to prioritize a live/work mix within walking distance of a transit stop. Instead, what I see at both BART and Caltrain is top priority given to parking, quite frequently a parking structure surrounded by a sea of surface parking. After hiking past this gauntlet you’ll get to something mall-like, usually. So I think that the “TOD” wording has been abused in the Bay Area (as well as other places) that can’t think past car-priority patterns.

  • RichLL

    Jym, I love the way you catch up on 2-month old threads. In this case, you really cannot consider all BART locations to be the same. For instance I am not aware of any substantial car parking at any SF BART location.

    On the other hand, go out to the further extremities of the East Bay and you will see a lot.

    Wild guess here. BART responds to customer demand and, in places like Pleasant Hill and Pleasanton, the customer demand is for car-friendly transit. In SF and Oakland, they want building density.

    Know your customer.

  • MR

    I live in San Jose with near-million dollar homes in the ghetto.

    We need density too but check out the giant parking lots presented to the new BART stations there.

  • MR



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