Tri-Cities Voice Newspaper - What's Happening - Fremont, Union City, Newark California

July 6, 2004 > Mark Leonard, Union City Economic and Community Development Director,

Mark Leonard, Union City Economic and Community Development Director,

TCV: Is Union City making use of mixed use development?

Leonard: It certainly is. We have developed a new zoning district around the BART area to encourage mixed use development. This is definitely a part of our "Transit Village" vision.

We have a zoning district in the Old Alvarado area along Smith Street that has been in existence for some time. It is called the Specialty Commercial Zone. That zone does allow mixed use development to occur. That has been on our books for more than ten years. It allows residential to occur on the second floor of a retail commercial building. You can have offices or retail/commercial on the first floor and apartments or condominiums on the second floor.

A more widely used commercial zone, called "Community Commercial," does not allow mixed use. That is the zone applied to many of our neighborhood shopping centers. A new zone that we are preparing is a reflection of "station mix" land use of the General Plan applied on the General Plan map around the BART station. This includes land located between Union Square Boulevard and the second set (easterly) of railroad tracks. The zoning standards for the Station Mixed Use District will allow quite a variety of mixed uses including office development, retail commercial and multiple-family residential. We are recognizing the need to "densify" the area around the BART station and take advantage of the regional opportunities that transit provides.

TCV: Is any of this being driven by state mandates?

Leonard: No, not at all. Union City has a certified housing element. We were the second community in Alameda County to receive a fully certified housing element. We received our certification in 2002. The reasons we were able to get our certification was our performance in the past to meet our regional obligations for market rate housing and affordable housing and the available sites in our inventory to develop housing in the future.

TCV: What is your plan for infill developments?

Leonard: It's a combination. In order to have a successful city government that can provide the services demanded by the residents, you must have a balance of jobs and housing. City government is funded is by providing a variety of uses. A large portion of our General Fund comes not only from property taxes, but sales taxes as well, so we want to have a good business element, especially retail/commercial in our community.

It may be that the way local government is funded will change drastically in the next few years. We need to position ourselves to respond to those changing dynamics. One reason Union City was able to weather the latest downturn - although we certainly had our budget problems and still do - without losing the number of jobs that other communities in Silicon Valley did, was because we retained a diversified portfolio of land uses. This is similar to personal investment advice. As an individual, it is not prudent to have all funds in one investment. It is best to diversify so as the economy changes and cycles, a certain percentage of the portfolio will continue to perform well. The same thing applies to a community. A community will be hit by economic cycles and the sectors that will be affected are difficult to predict so what you want is a variety of sectors - industrial, commercial and residential.

TCV: Does Union City have a Redevelopment Agency?

Leonard: Yes. Because Union City is a small city in size of government, everything is integrated. The standards of land use and zoning that are applied to the redevelopment area reflect the zoning ordinance of the city as a whole. The staff that works on the projects proposed for the redevelopment areas is the same staff that works on projects outside redevelopment.

Even though redevelopment parcels and groups of parcels are scattered around the city, we have one redevelopment plan. Redevelopment areas include the Decoto neighborhood, Decoto Industrial Park, Market Place Shopping Center and the BART Station area. Moving westward, the mobile home parks are in redevelopment, Old Alvarado, Contempo Housing, the Home Depot Shopping Center, Union Landing and the areas along the frontage of Union City Boulevard from Old Alvarado north.

TCV: Is there any redevelopment activity now?

Leonard: The Union City Redevelopment Agency is very active. We are about to break ground on two major affordable housing projects this summer. One will be the last phase of our senior village - in this case, assisted living - on Alvarado-Niles Road not too far from city hall and the Ruggieri Senior Center. The other project is an affordable housing project on Mission Boulevard for families. Those two projects could not have happened without redevelopment.

Redevelopment has put a lot of money in Pacific States Steel site cleanup. That will be a combination of housing and some "job producing" industry there in the future. We have also done other Economic Development projects with our redevelopment dollars.

TCV: Will development in Union City build vertically?

Leonard: There is tremendous flexibility in our new station mixed use district. Mixed use can be built in a different way near the BART station. For instance, there may be residential on the first floor of one building and offices and/or commercial or retail in an adjacent building. The area around the BART station will be at least "mid-rise development." I am hoping that we can achieve at least three to four stories and, maybe, at the upper end, six or seven stories.

TCV: Is the Transit Hub area around BART the center of future commercial development?

Leonard: Yes. We don't have much commercial land left. The vast majority of our vacant or underdeveloped acreage is located near the BART station. That will be our focal point in the future for residential, commercial, office and industrial development.

TCV: Will the area be subject to a "theme"?

Leonard: We have some design standards now in the General Plan that we hope will create some homogeneity in future development in that area. I don't mean that we want everything to look exactly alike, but there will be some common elements throughout the area.

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