Housing As the Value Enhancer

June 1, 2017

By: Chris Kniel

The Urban Land Institute (ULI), a development group, website https://uli.org and presentation,  http://orindaca.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx , has put forth their plans for Orinda’s downtown. Forget that semi-rural setting of a meandering stream, overlooking the bucolic Orinda hills and open spaces. 

Instead, ULI’s presented vision, Tues., April 11, 2017, is all about “housing as the value enhancer.” Unless you favor “housing as the value enhancer,” employed in Walnut Creek and Lafayette’s downtown, this is a disastrous approach for Orinda. It defies the reason why most of us live here.

Despite the enormous work and competence of Orinda’s original visionaries, who created our General Plan in the ‘80s, picture six new buildings, of 40 units each, at five stories, crammed into the Post Office and Rite Aid space. The ULI presentation included many fanciful distractions, but this vision accurately describes what the ULI has in mind. Don’t quibble about 100, 150 or 200 new units. This ULI plan is wrong by an order of magnitude. 

You might ask, how this massive increase in housing (240 units or thereabouts), at five stories, crammed into a small area, would impact schools, traffic flow and the quality of life. You might ask how a ULI development could be five stories when the General Plan calls for two stories or no more than 35’. Part of the answer would include, ULI’s recommendation to redefine how to measure. Put simply, building heights would be measured from the curb. The General Plan would be revised to provide more ”flexibility.” There are many other recommendations or distractions to support the overall development objective: “housing as the value enhancer.” Details can be important, but don’t lose perspective and the impact of a massive increase in downtown housing. Is this what you want? 

If you favor “organic growth,” the two- story Montessori plans proposed for the Phairs’ location a few years back, which I strongly supported, along with the current plans for 25 Orinda Way are good examples. The Montessori plans were approved by the Planning Commission, but were killed by the City Council and the Orinda Vision folks. The positives of “organic growth” versus the negatives of ”housing as the value enhancer” produce dramatically different outcomes. The ULI proposed massive increases to downtown residential real estate, if approved, would be irreversible. 

Ponder the perspective and magnitude of the ULI proposal. Don’t get lost in promises and less substantial issues. Get involved and demand a vote. It’s your community.