EL CERRITO -- Developers of a proposed condominium project that fell by the wayside during the housing meltdown in 2009 are going full steam ahead with plans now that real estate prices and rents are rising.
Los Angeles-based Spectra America bought the plans and entitlements for a 128-unit development, known as the Creekside project, from lender Preferred Bank about a year ago.
The site had originally been earmarked for a department store and then a BART parking garage with senior housing.
The complex will be built on what is now a vacant lot at the southeast corner of El Cerrito Plaza shopping center.
Plans call for 48-unit and 80-unit buildings with parking on the ground floor and three stories of studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom condominiums above.
A major attraction is proximity to the El Cerrito Plaza BART station, enabling an easy commute to jobs in San Francisco and East Bay locations, according to Spectra America partner Derek Baak.
Baak said the decision to build now is being driven by unprecedented demand for new housing in the Bay Area.
"You look for apartments or condos in the area and there is nothing available," Baak said. "People say, 'Give me your name, and I'll put you on a list.'"
El Cerrito senior planner Noel Ibalio said his department is checking the plans for the development before issuing building permits.
The project received approval for a conditional use permit and design review from the city in 2007 despite concerns of some Albany and El Cerrito residents about increased traffic, the height of the buildings and the density of development.
"Once the plans are OK'd and checked, then the building permits will be issued," Ibalio said. "The developer has purchased it recently and is moving forward with the building permit part of it."
Baak said his company has the financing in place to complete the project, adding his budget far exceeds a $15 million estimate for the cost of construction in 2009.
The project came to a halt at that time when Preferred Bank cut off funding to the original developer.
"We're bringing a lot of money (because) you've got to put the money in to get the quality," Baak said.
Ibalio said Spectra America must build the units to the standards of for-sale condominiums, although it could still rent them out.
Spectra America plans to begin construction once building permits are issued, Baak said.
Sierra Club official Norman La Force, a former El Cerrito mayor, said his organization remains in favor of the project primarily because it is close to public transportation.
"It's a classic example of an infill project by BART and that makes a lot of sense," LaForce said. "It's right on the border with Albany, but it's still in El Cerrito."