The Oakland Tribune reports today about a public scoping meeting that will take place at Oakland City Hall, tonight at the 6:00 pm Planning Commission meeting. The goal of the meeting is to receive public commentary about a project in planning, a new tower at 222 19th Street known as Emerald Views. Soaring to 457 feet, this 42-story residential tower could become the new peak of the Oakland skyline, surpassing the 404-foot Ordway Building, currently the tallest tower in the Bay Area outside of San Francisco. The tower is very slender, with just about ten units per floor and a footprint of 12,200 square feet — quite small for a building of this height. It would add 370 residential units to a highly transit-oriented location just a few blocks from 19th Street BART and the comprehensive bus service on Broadway — and it would supply a new influx of people to the developing Uptown neighborhood, an area that is experiencing quite a bit of residential construction. Also, 993 square feet would be made available at the ground level for a cafe or restaurant.
Opponents have stipulated that the tower is out of place and does not fit its context. The Tribune article quotes James Vann from the Coalition of Advocates for Lake Merritt, who remarks:
“The proximity to the lake is one thing,” he said. “I’m more in favor of the bowl concept of development around the lake, where buildings closer to the lake are lower in stories and then you rise as you move away from the lake.”
The idea of crafting this sort of shape to the skyline is not a bad one, but both Vann and the tower’s opponents have overlooked the fact that Oakland’s tallest structures — the Ordway, but also Kaiser Center (390 feet) and 1999 Harrison Street (371 feet) — are already located directly on Lake Merritt, so the tower would not really be out of place at all:
There is one point on which I agree with the tower’s opponents, namely that remaining vacant spots on and immediately around Broadway should ideally be filled to high density, so as to take full advantage of proximity to the BART line. However, the assertion that the Emerald Views tower does not fit the context seems entirely wrong, as I believe the above rendering demonstrates.
So, if the building is truly not out of context, then what is the problem? The tower would be erected on the historic Schilling Garden, once part of the estate of Alfred Schilling. However, this is not a story of a greedy developer stealing public open space for the sake of the bottom line. The Schilling Garden is already closed off to the public — in fact, before the Emerald Views controversy started, most Oaklanders probably did not even know that the park was there. The site is right next to Snow Park and Lake Merritt itself, both of which provide thoroughly public open space. In the aerial view pictured at the right, Lake Merritt is at the far right of the image, and the large green area on the left side of the image is Snow Park. The area outlined by the red box is the “secret garden” that would be the site of the proposed Emerald Views tower. The aerial shot makes clear that this tower leaves untouched most of the green space in this area, and since the Schilling Garden is private, no public open space would be removed.
In fact, the project would return the garden to the public. The site is 31,830 square feet; above, I remarked that the tower footprint was only 12,200 square feet, so more than half of the site would actually be returned to the public in the form of true open space, a 20,322 square foot park that incorporates trees, benches, and other elements from the current garden. In addition, the woefully underutilized Snow Park would be improved and redone into a destination spot for downtown residents and visitors. The new Snow Park could feature picnic areas, a putting green, and a children’s discovery garden.
All in all, this project strikes me as a good one. The project offers the opportunity to put high-density housing in a transit-oriented location that could benefit from additional residents and vitality, and it would give Oaklanders new and improved public open space to enjoy. I would encourage any and all Oakland urbanists reading this post to attend tonight’s public scoping meeting (or to send in written comments, by December 10, 2007) to emphasize the benefits that this project could bring to the city of Oakland.
Top image courtesy Oakland Tribune; middle image courtesy Novometro; bottom image courtesy Google Maps.