UNION CITY -- With tears streaming down her face, Colleen Dutton-Cook spoke Thursday of how her home in a new apartment complex within Union City's BART Intermodal Station District has improved her family's life.
"We've taken pride in our apartment, and I'm even teaching classes in the community room about eating healthy on a budget," the 39-year-old nursing student said, her voice shaking as she addressed a crowd at the building's ribbon-cutting ceremony.
City and county officials there were less emotional but just as celebratory over the progress made in parts of the Station District, a mixed-use, 105-acre project that leaders envision as a transit hub that one day will serve multiple rail and bus lines.
The project's first phase started construction five years ago.
Union City's neighboring cities have planned similarly ambitious transit-oriented developments -- Fremont's proposal is for the planned Warm Springs BART station, while Newark's is a mixed-use community near a proposed Dumbarton Rail station on the western edge of town.
But Union City -- located next to its lone BART station, near the intersection of 11th Street and Decoto Road -- is the only southern Alameda County city that has made substantive progress on its higher-density, transit-oriented plans.
"We've been waiting for this day for a long time," Mayor Mark Green said, noting that the city's first discussions on the project go back to the late 1980s. "It's taken waves after waves after waves of people to get this done."
Where once was a contaminated site that housed a Pacific States Steel plant, there is now a 216-unit apartment complex called Pacific Terrace. Next to that is Station Center -- the new 157-unit, affordable-housing building where Dutton-Cook's family lives. It was developed by MidPen Housing, a Foster City-based company specializing in affordable housing. The five-story complex is LEED Platinum, the highest ranking for green construction.
The $65.3 million development was funded by several sources, including the Union City Redevelopment Agency, Alameda County Housing Authority, California Community Reinvestment Corporation and the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
Next to Station Center is a 438-unit residential complex, as well as two others that have a combined 490 residences. Across the street sits the newly constructed East Plaza, which features a fountain containing three eye-catching bronze sculptures standing nearly 15 feet¿ high. The art work, titled "The Dancers," was created by French sculptor Louis Derbre.
The city hopes one day to have 1,925 units and nearly 2,600 jobs within a quarter-mile of the Union City BART station.
But there is a lot more work to be done to reach that goal.
City officials are in talks with a developer to construct an 187-unit apartment complex offering market rate homes next to the plaza along 11th Street, City Manager Larry Cheeves said. The construction of office space and retail also is on the drawing board, Cheeves said.
But the city's next top priority is to make infrastructure improvements that connect the back of the BART station -- which currently is inaccessible to pedestrians -- to the East Plaza, allowing the Station District's newest residents to enter BART from 11th Street rather than walk about two blocks around the station to use it.
"That connection really needs to happen," Cheeves said. "This project has a strong affordable housing component, so it's important that the people who need BART to get to work will have this access, which will make it so much more convenient to get to."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.