New Bill Would Give BART Power to Set Zoning Rules at Stations

The North Berkeley BART Station and parking lot, one of the transit district sites that could see future development under AB 2923.  (Google Earth )

Two Bay Area lawmakers are promoting a bill that aims to spur more housing construction at BART stations -- by essentially putting the BART board of directors in charge of zoning on agency-owned land near the transit district's stations in San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Assembly members David Chiu, D-San Francisco, and Tim Grayson, D-Concord, introduced AB 2923 last month. It would set new rules for development on BART property -- mostly on parking lots that surround many of the agency's stations.

The measure would require the BART board to review the agency's current "transit-oriented development" policies, formalize those policies as formal zoning standards and adopt a streamlined approval process for new development.

The bill would require local governments to change their zoning laws to conform to BART's guidelines and give BART the power to override local laws that are inconsistent with the agency's development standards. The bill also mandates that 20 percent of units in the BART-centered developments be affordable to moderate, low-income and very-low-income residents for a period of 55 years.

"We have too many BART stations surrounded by parking lots," Chiu said in an interview Sunday. "Acres of asphalt and parked cars. ... Part of our point is it's much more effective to build a couple floors of housing on top of what is an open parking lot than the use that we see today."

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Chiu said that although BART has worked for years to encourage transit-oriented development -- often abbreviated as TOD -- some local jurisdictions are very slow to grant construction approvals.

"We're trying to jump-start these conversation in every locality that has a BART station," Chiu said. "... I think building vibrant, affordable, walkable communities on undeveloped land next to BART is the best way to deliver housing without disrupting existing communities."

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said in an email that the BART board has taken no position on the bill and will discuss it later this week. San Francisco BART board member Nick Josefowitz is one of the measure's proponents.

AB 2923 would apply to BART-owned parcels of at least one-quarter acre and within a half-mile of a BART station entrance. If BART fails to enact new standards for transit-oriented development by April 2019, the bill would use the zoning guidelines the agency put in place last year.

Those guidelines categorize BART stations as one of three place types: regional center stations, like those in downtown Oakland and San Francisco; urban neighborhood/city center stations, such as Glen Park, North Berkeley and Fruitvale; and neighborhood or town center stations, such as those along the Pittsburg-Bay Point line in Contra Costa County.

BART's current guidelines call for developments of at least 12 stories for regional centers; at least seven stories around stations like North Berkeley (pictured above), and at least five stories around the suburban Contra Costa County stations. For future developments, the guidelines call for a minimum of 75 units of housing per acre.

BART is already dealing with high demand for parking spots, with long waiting lists for reserved parking at every station. But the agency's TOD guidelines, in line with the view of many urban planners, contemplate a future in which private automobile use is reduced drastically as more housing and offices are built near transit hubs, more people walk or bike to work, and technological breakthroughs such as autonomous vehicles come online.

AB 2923 is the latest in a series of high-profile legislative efforts to intensify development near transit corridors as a response to the region's affordable housing crunch. Among them: SB 35, a measure by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, signed into law last fall that offers a dramatically streamlined permit-approval process for affordable housing; and SB 827, a proposal introduced in January by Wiener that would require local governments to permit much denser housing within a half-mile of transit hubs like BART stations and within a quarter-mile of busy commuter-bus stops.


KQED's Guy Marzorati contributed to this report.

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