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December 26, 2006 > Catalyst for a new downtown image?

Catalyst for a new downtown image?

by Vidya Pradhan

If you've wondered about that incongruent patch of green at the intersection of Walnut Ave. and Liberty St., wonder no more. This last open space in the heart of Fremont's central business district (CBD) is soon to be a cluster of condos built by SummerHill Homes.

According to Wayne Morris, senior planner, the city is trying to create something new and unique for the CBD. "To make a downtown active and vibrant, you need to put people there. Is this [project] going to bring enough people? I don't know. But it is a start."

Originally zoned "commercial," the vacant lot languished for several years as the economic downturn of the late 1990s made industrial construction unviable. When SummerHill Homes approached the City of Fremont with a plan for residential development, the idea was not dismissed out of hand. One of the main criteria for a vibrant downtown would be activity in the evening hours. It was felt that having some pockets of residential buildings would provide the impetus for increased traffic and attract higher-end retail stores to the neighborhood. A Concept Plan Amendment was passed to rezone the area for high density housing.

The original plan submitted by SummerHill envisioned a development of town homes on the four acres they owned. But in keeping with the city's vision of vertical development in the heart of Fremont, the plan was substantially revised to incorporate residences in the form of four-story condos along with 5,000 square feet of commercial space. A pool, spa and clubhouse are some of the amenities proposed for future residents. In addition, the city has asked for 9,900 square feet of parkland in the center of the proposed project, an area that would be developed by SummerHill but maintained by the city. It would have a fire pit, public art, seating, lighting and landscaping.

The Civic Park would be created by pushing State Street through to Walnut Ave. The park would be in the median of the new extension of the street. Eventually, the new street would be useful in providing access to proposed commercial development along Capitol and Beacon Avenue.

One of the interesting concepts proposed is the development of 10 live/work units bordering the future Civic Park. While these will be primarily residential units, they will have the flexibility to allow professionals like doctors and lawyers to construct offices on the ground floor, their living spaces on the floor above.

The idea is that people living in these residences would walk or bike to BART and shopping. The typical demographic of this project is envisioned as couples with one child or none, or those down-sizing from suburban homes. A public transit system within the CBD is part of the larger plan, but the idea has not yet reached the critical mass necessary to make it economically feasible.

"The SummerHill project is right at the edge of the focus area for the CBD, which is the Hub and the area immediately adjoining it," says Morris. "There is a plan to push Capitol Avenue to Fremont Blvd. and more commercial establishments will be featured there." While this complex appears to be an island of residences in a sea of commerce, "over time there may be other projects in here that have residential components."

It may not be clearly stated as such, but there are quite a few expectations from this small patch of land. Hopes are that it will jumpstart the downtown process and attract other similar developments mixing commercial and residential usages. It is expected to provide a clientele that will appeal to lifestyle retail stores such as Crate and Barrel and Whole Foods.

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