Concord is not the only East Bay city gearing up for a round of heavy development. El Cerrito plans to build over 1,000 residential units and to redevelop long-shuttered retail stores along San Pablo Avenue.
El Cerrito Mayor Janet Abelson (below) said several factors are contributing to the latest boom. The city has finally started to get out of the deep recession.
“There’s been a pent-up need for development that hasn’t been met [since the Great Recession]. We’ve had no development to speak of,” Abelson said.
She said El Cerrito passed two specific plans covering San Pablo Avenue (above), which has also helped direct the future of development. The San Pablo Specific Plan includ es the Complete Street Plan, which says streets are not just for cars, but for everyone and is bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly. The specific plan includ es form-based codes, which provide a clearer understanding of what designs and developments the city prefers.
El Cerrito is open to working with developers and has created a tier system to classify different developments so developers know what to expect, Abelson said. For easy developments that conform to the specific plan, developers do not have to go through the whole approval process, saving time and money. The city has three other tiers depending on the complexity of the development with the fourth tier needing to go through closer review and a longer approval process.
El Cerrito is transit-oriented with two BART stops within city limits, Rapid Bus lines along San Pablo Avenue and local buses that run frequently. Residents and visitors can get into and out of El Cerrito without a car, according to Abelson.
“Because we’ve got so much [public transit], businesses don’t need to build so much parking,” she said.
With Berkeley and Albany being built up, El Cerrito is the next big opportunity for development, she said. The proximity to Berkeley as well as San Francisco also makes the city desirable. Land values have gone up enough to make it worthwhile for landowners to sell.
Plenty Of Developments In The Pipeline
One of the largest developments nearing completion is Creekside Walk, a 128-unit apartment complex developed by Ravello with general contractor Arbor Building Group.
The transit-oriented development is next to BART and a large shopping center and is less than a mile from UC Berkeley. It was originally entitled in 2007, but the Great Recession hit and the land was given back to the lender. The lender partnered with Ravello to develop the site. Arbor designed the project as condos in 2013, but it didn’t pencil out until 2015, when it was converted to apartments, Arbor Building Group principal Richard Dunn said. Julie Littman / Bisnow Courtyard at Creekside Walk Apartments in El Cerrito will includ e barbecue pits.
The complex is divided into two buildings with a common courtyard in between with landscaping and trees. Each of the buildings has a courtyard area with barbecue pits. Parking will includ e EV charging stations as well as bike storage.
Each unit includ es Energy Star kitchen appliances and a washer/dryer. The first building has about 48 units and is expected to be completed within the next 60 days, with the second building with 84 units expected 60 days after the first building is finished. The complex should be fully opened by summer. Creekside Walk includ es about 19 affordable housing units. Pre-leasing is expected to start next month.
The transit-oriented development also is environmentally friendly. A part of the project includ ed the restoration of a 60-foot by 180-foot portion of Cerrito Creek. The restored creek includ es native plants and bank stabilization.
“It’s good for the project and the city,” Dunn said. “It’s tied to the greenway. It’s a cool part of the project.”
Another unique aspect of the project is the contractor used pervious concrete, which allows water to pass through, filters the water and puts it back into the groundwater.
Dunn said because the project is close to BART and shopping, the project will have a positive impact on the environment. Less parking will be needed because residents can just walk or ride a bike.
More Affordable Housing Coming
Creekside Walk’s affordable units are just the beginning of the city’s plan of adding more affordable housing. Hana Gardens Apartments, which is expected to begin early this year, will provide 63 units of affordable housing for seniors next to city hall. The project will includ e a Japanese heritage garden and public plaza as well as two commercial spaces with about 2,300 to 2,400 SF.
Over 206 affordable units will be added to El Cerrito within the next few years, according to the East Bay Times. Abelson said families living in affordable units cannot pay more than a third of their monthly income on housing. Rents could go as low as $300/month. The city offers an incentive program in the specific plan to allow for an extra story on a building if it includ es affordable units. There are also state programs for affordable housing.
Other mixed-income developments includ e Mayfair, a project built on BART parking lots on San Pablo Avenue next to the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station. This two-building project will offer 156 units of market-rate housing and about 67 units of affordable. Over 10k SF of retail will be added to the ground floor.
The city also is considering a plan to redevelop the former Orchard Supply Hardware store on Eastshore Boulevard that would combine a Chevrolet dealership on the ground floor with 315 housing units above, according to the East Bay Times. The city council also approved a 27-unit townhouse project last fall at 5828 El Dorado St. A developer has proposed redeveloping the empty Guitar Center store at 10300 San Pablo Ave. into a 31-unit live/work development. And two hotels are proposed in northern El Cerrito.