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Press

300-unit apartment complex approved for Walnut Creek

Friday, June 15, 2012 // Contra Costa Times

300-unit apartment complex approved for Walnut Creek  

By Elisabeth Nardi
Contra Costa Times Contra Costa Times

In a city with few areas left to build new housing, a 300-unit apartment project will take over the former Longs Drugs company headquarters site on Civic Drive near Ygnacio Valley Road.

The Paragon Apartments project was approved by the planning commission on Thursday night. This was the second time city leaders approved this high-density housing; developer Urban Housing Group pulled the project following its approval last year, after an appeal to the City Council was filed by Carpenters Local 152.

That same union sued the city in January because city leaders approved the 126-unit North Main Apartments project, saying it lacked an environmental report.

Urban Housing Group decided to reapply to the city this year and do a full environmental impact report. There were no written or spoken comments from the carpenters union this time.

"It is literally virtually the same set of plans approved by the design review commission and planning commission last year," said Kelly Snider with Urban Housing Group. "This will fill a new need that doesn't exist downtown right now."

The 80,000-square-foot former Longs/CVS headquarters on the 5-acre site will be demolished, with the 300-unit, four-story Paragon development built in its place. Plans include a rooftop terrace, swimming pool and a 475-stall, four-level solar-powered parking garage.

The environmental impact report detailed significant effects from the project but offered ways to deal with all of them. Nearly all major effects occur with the actual construction.

The one- and two-bedroom apartments will range from 667 to 1,051 square feet. Market research shows that likely tenants will be people who want to be close to downtown and transit such as professionals 35 and younger, empty-nesters and those who are recently divorced, Snider said.

Business groups spoke at the planning commission meeting to champion the project. Former Councilman Charlie Abrams, who is now director of the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce board, said this type of housing is needed downtown and will bring in "more shoppers and business."

He thinks 475 parking stalls is enough for the type of project and where it's located. If it wasn't near BART, the city would require 502 parking spaces; because of its proximity to the Walnut Creek station, the city requires 400. The plans also include some guest spots, electric charging stations and 76 bicycle parking spaces.

A public walking and bicycle path will be built along the north side of the development, providing a cut-through from Civic Drive to Broadway -- though that short cut will exist only if property owners on the other side of Paragon decide to continue the path's construction. Once Paragon is built, the path will look like a regular sidewalk and dead-end at the property line, though it will connect to the pathways leading in and around the apartment complex, Snider said.

A new signalized intersection will be built on Civic Drive at the entrance to the development, across the street from where buses stage and wait for Walnut Creek Intermediate School students. Left-turn lanes heading east onto Ygnacio Valley Road will be made longer.

Paragon's developers opted to pay $3.7 million in lieu of providing apartments that meet affordable housing requirements. That money is required under the city's inclusionary housing ordinance.

Commissioner Matt Francois said this is the appropriate site for higher density housing in Walnut Creek.

Also in the works for Walnut Creek is the 107-unit Arroyo Apartments under review, as well as a 154-apartment project proposed for the Scotts Valley Bank site on California Boulevard. In addition, about 600 units are planned for the Walnut Creek BART Transit Village.