HERCULES -- A proposal to extend BART north to Hercules is challenging this city to re-examine how it wants to evolve from an automobile-dependent suburb into its New Urbanist, pedestrian- and transit-friendly vision.

Would a BART station near Interstate 80 and Highway 4 complement, or compete with, an intermodal transit center along San Pablo Bay?

And does Hercules even want BART, considering housing density requirements set by the Bay Area's main transportation planning and financing agency that also favor development of affordable housing?

On Tuesday, the Hercules City Council will discuss whether to support a study of a BART extension north to San Pablo, Richmond Hilltop, Pinole and Hercules.

A 1990s study described several alternative alignments: from El Cerrito Del Norte up the Interstate 80 corridor, or from downtown Richmond north via the Union Pacific or Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad right of way or up Rumrill Boulevard.

San Pablo, Pinole and Contra Costa County support a study without preconditions regarding alignments. Richmond, however, opposes any extension that would bypass downtown Richmond.

"Your preference is for it to go up 80, and yet where Hercules' density and where our priority and focus and vision has been is with the (intermodal transit center)," Hercules Councilwoman Sherry McCoy told BART board member Zakhary Mallett after an April 23 presentation. "Do you see that as being a viable option for BART?"


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Mallett said a study will answer what alignment would be most viable.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission's latest Transit-Oriented Development Policy, adopted in 2005, sets an average housing threshold of 3,850 units, existing or planned, within a half-mile radius of stations in a rail extension corridor, including the existing end-of-the-line station; there is a 50 percent bonus for new, below-market-rate units. The threshold for commuter rail, such as the eBART extension being built in eastern Contra Costa, is 2,200 units.

Today, Hercules has roughly 1,200 housing units within a half-mile of the closed Market Hall outdoor food court, the BART station location suggested by Mallett. But that site today is privately owned, and a developer, McNellis Partners of Palo Alto, plans a single-story retail complex there.

The 1,200 estimate does not include Sycamore North, a half-finished, four-story apartment complex with some ground-floor stores. Residents at a July 2011 town hall meeting roundly denounced a proposal, since dropped, by a nonprofit developer to turn all of Sycamore North into affordable housing.

"Behemoth," "monstrous," "hulking," and "out of scale" were some of the terms residents used to describe the building itself; one likened it to "Godzilla hovering over Tokyo." Several said Hercules had enough affordable housing and that more of it, especially if concentrated, would bring crime, noise, trash and drugs.

Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760 or tlochner@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at twitter.com/tomlochner.

if you go
What: Hercules City Council Meeting
Where: Council chamber, 111 Civic Drive
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday