A practically giddy Planning Commission last week approved plans for two 22-story apartment buildings one at 11th and Jackson streets and the other at 23rd and Webster streets.
The commissioners gushed over the designs, but more than anything, over the height and the density of the projects.
"After four years of approving four-over-two projects, this is a nice change," said Commissioner Mark McClure, referring to the glut of low-rise wood or metal-framed residential developments with four to six floors of housing over two floors of parking.
Back in 1999, Mayor Jerry Brown launched his "10K" plan to spur housing development to bring 10,000 new residents downtown. But building high rises carries financial risks, and some residential projects that started with tall towers were scaled down for financial or other reasons. Among them were City Walk by the Olson Company at 14th and Jefferson streets and Housewives Market by A.F. Evans at Ninth and Clay streets.
"(These newly approved projects) will start the momentum in high-rise development," McClure said. "It's a risk to build high rise and I thank these developers for taking a chance."
Lakeshore Partners' residential project at 11th and Jackson will have 291 units,
3,660 square feet of ground-floor commercial space and
369 parking stalls. It sits on the edge of Chinatown, only a fewblocks from Lake Merritt. It is surrounded by several city landmarks, including the Oakland Museum, Kaiser Auditorium, Camron Stanford House, Oakland Hotel and Lincoln Square Park.
Tom Peterson of Lakeshore Partners also built the Essex, a luxury high-rise condominium building on Lakeside Drive and one of the only high-rise projects that did not have several floors lopped off the design before the foundation was poured.
"Six years ago we were here proposing the first high-rise building, at Lake Merritt," Peterson said. "We might have thought we were crazy, but it's turned out well."
The developer has pledged to help with measures to improve pedestrian safety in the area, a big concern for Chinatown residents, business owners and nearby schools.
"The project is located in a residential area with a large population of seniors and youth, and there's a high level of traffic accidents," said Jenny Ong, director of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce.
"We're glad to hear the developer will work on traffic safety during and after construction," she said.
The other development at 23rd and Webster streets by Walter Cohen of PPD Merritt I, LLC, will contain 281 residential units, 10,603 square feet of retail, 10,613 square feet of second-floor commercial space and 535 parking stalls, of which 242 will be designated for public parking.
The project is a block away from Broadway and Grand Avenue, near banks and other office buildings, yet just a few blocks from the north end of Lake Merritt.
The area is seeing tremendous growth. Signature Properties' residential development is a block away, a new office building has just been approved for 22nd and Franklin streets, and a new Whole Foods supermarket is under construction just a few blocks away.
The project will require the demolition of two commercial structures on 23rd Street that contain small restaurants. Both Joyce Roy, an Oakland preservation architect, and Naomi Schiff, president of the Oakland Heritage Alliance, urged the commission to help the small businesses relocate.
"Small businesses are cultural resources," Schiff said. "Business retention is something the city is really bad at. If we aren't careful we will be dependent on chain stores."
Commission vice chair Anne Mudge said she does not want the public to think the planners are against local business.
"If we approve this project, we're adding 10,000 square feet of new retail," she said.