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July 6, 2004 > A Discussion of Mixed Use Planning with Jeff Schwob, Deputy Planning Manager, City of Fremont

A Discussion of Mixed Use Planning with Jeff Schwob, Deputy Planning Manager, City of Fremont

TCV: What is the definition of "Mixed Use" and how does this apply in Fremont?

Schwob: The term simply means that instead of only one use (i.e. residential, commercial, industrial, etc.) in an area, a mix of more than one is acceptable. In Fremont, this is typically a mix of commercial and residential uses.

TCV: In a "Mixed Use" zone, what are the parameters used by the City of Fremont?

Schwob: The land is not zoned as "Mixed Use." It is zoned as "Commercial." Once zoned as commercial, the allowable development area or Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is increased to accommodate both uses. For instance, if a commercial zone had an allowable ratio of 30%, a proposed mixed would increase the amount of floor space to 60%. This means that the density of building on the site can double.

TCV: Can a developer mix retail, offices and residential in commercial zone?

Schwob: In general, yes.

TCV: There has been discussion of the ratio of retail/commercial to the remainder of the site when applying mixed use.

Schwob: We can term the use as "active commercial use" on the ground floor in a commercial district. If someone proposes a mixed use project in a commercial area, there are some thresholds that must be met. First, they need to maintain the commercial presence along the commercial street; commercial continuity. We do not want to have a "no activity" area - housing for example - facing the street. The activity zone needs to follow along the entire street so people will not have to bridge gaps in commercial activity. Also, the predominant depth of the commercial space must be 50 feet. This is the minimum depth for a viable retail space.

We developed a formula for determining the minimum amount of square footage of commercial space along a commercial street. That formula takes the length of the commercial street (i.e. frontage) and multiplying it by a factor of "30." Why 30 when I just spoke about a minimum depth of 50? If you envision a building on the corner of a street, somehow you need to get to a parking area, either behind the building or under the building. There will be some part of the frontage without a commercial presence - a driveway or stairs leading to upper floors and other similar things. That is why we are using a multiplier of 30 to determine the minimum square footage. Part of the idea of mixed use is to preserve a commercial component of a development so it doesn't become simply a housing project.

TCV: What does "Active Commercial use" mean?

Schwob: Significant foot traffic in and out of the business. Offices are a borderline use of the term. Some are very active with clients coming and going, while others may have minimal traffic. What we do not want is a telemarketing office, for example. Here, only employees come to the office, while pedestrians are just walking by. This is up to the regulations of each commercial zoning district. In an Office Commercial Zone, telemarketing would probably be allowed, while in a Community Commercial Zone, that use is not allowed.

TCV: Do these zones exist now?

Schwob: Yes. What we have done is to go to the Zoning Code and enable mixed use by adding it to the various zoning districts. Prior to the mixed use ordinance, mixed use was only allowed on the fringe of the Central Business District and Community Commercial areas. There were some restrictions including a minimum of 51% of floor area in commercial. Now, we are saying that mixed use can also occur in Office Commercial, Thoroughfare and Neighborhood Commercial. There are a new set of rules for how we review the projects. Before the change, every mixed use project had to come for review and rezoning. The new proposal requires this review for sites of 2 acres or more. Smaller projects are now only required to go to the Planning Commission for approval of a Use Permit application.

In Niles, for instance, there are many existing buildings that are mixed use - residential above commercial. The zoning is Community Commercial and technically these are nonconforming since housing is not allowed. Now these uses, if an owner applies for a zoning administrator permit at staff level, can be legalized. This can help someone who wants to finance the purchase of one of the buildings since they can be "conforming" structures. If someone had an office on the second floor and wanted to convert it to residential or vice versa, they can come in to staff for review. If it is within the existing building, it would probably be pretty straight forward. We would, of course, look at parking, access issues and the like. Before the change, an application to rezone the property would have been necessary including staff review, Planning Commission review and City Council. For small sites, this doesn't make sense.

TCV: What prevents a developer from subdividing a large site into two acre parcels and avoiding the longer process?

Schwob: Keep in mind that the planning staff does review subdivisions too. Creating a commercial purpose from scratch on a two acre lot is usually not done. This would be highly unusual and we would probably guess that "something is up."

TCV: There has been comment about rezoning the Cabrillo retail center and some older commercial centers.

Schwob: We approached the Cabrillo Center and some others prior to the mixed use ordinance. We rezoned that center and some others to Planned Districts to specifically allowed the retention of commercial space and expand up to the maximum floor area ratio allowed. The use of residential is allowed as well. The zoning changed to allow commercial, residential or both. There is a lot of flexibility in those centers, largely to encourage them to develop or revitalize.

The Irvington shopping center site fronting Grimmer Boulevard and Fremont Boulevard was treated in much the same way although the council decided that since the property is in the "core" of Irvington, the frontage along Grimmer and Fremont must remain commercial. The Planned District defers to the Mixed Use Ordinance which means that it will have to conform to the minimum 50' depth and FAR requirements.

The Mixed Use Ordinance is not designed to deteriorate the commercial cores of the community. We intend to preserve the commercial presence. That is why sections of mixed use address commercial frontage. What we heard from economic studies was that Fremont has a lot of land zoned commercial and needs to have more concentrated retail areas to make them successful. In a sense, we are spread a little too thin. The regional centers of "big box" will happen but not in the Community Commercial zones. Also, the Central Business District is concentrating on "Lifestyle" retail - Banana Republic, Williams Sonoma, etc. This can be a "node" unto itself that doesn't necessarily compete with the community commercial areas. Neighborhood commercial areas are typically where the grocery stores are located with a focus on unique specialty retail stores.

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