Proposed lakeside apartment building would have 37 stories, giant solar panels
on December 10, 2010
After meeting resistance three years ago to a proposal for converting a lakeside parking garage into a 37-story apartment building, a local real estate developer is back with what he says is a greener, more innovative plan for the project.
Mark Borsuk, managing director of the San Francisco-based Real Estate Transformation Group, has dubbed his proposed building, in glossy new promotional plans, an “energy harvester.” New plans for the building’s design include a 14,000 square-foot solar panel on the south façade of the building, which is the size of three basketball courts.
The condominium high-rise, with 243 condominium units ranging from studios to three bedroom apartments, would go right on top of a 1920’s-era at 1443 Alice Street. Each unit would be equipped with a grey water system, which uses recycled wash water for toilet flushing. The garage would stay intact and have charging stations for electric vehicles.
Borsuk, who was born in Oakland, said his family has owned the Alice Street property since 1945. “We felt the time was coming to where we could help Oakland express itself into the new century,” he said. “It’s our way of expressing our confidence in Oakland’s future.”
Since the project is still in its preliminary stages, the building and operational costs for the “energy harvester” have not been projected, Borsuk said. “The project still needs to go through the entitlements process including the California Environmental Quality Act review,” he wrote in an email to Oakland North. “The review requires an environmental impact report along with public comments. Upon completion, the Planning Commission will vote on the project.”
The new plans have not reached any city officials yet, but they have been published in media releases, informational emails to the community, and on a website. According to a May 25, 2007 article in the Oakland Tribune, Borsuk put the earlier project on hold after strong community opposition was voiced at a Commission Design Review Committee meeting. “To me the comments suggest that we’re too far ahead (in our thinking) for this type of project,” Borsuk was quoted as saying in the article. The 2007 plan featured a similar design—37 stories with 240 to 245 residences—but without the grey water system and solar panels.
But even with its redesign as a futuristic energy-conserving building, some Oakland residents have questions about how realistic and environmentally sound such a structure would be. Noami Schiff, a board member with the Oakland Heritage Alliance, said that although she appreciates that the Borsuk is enthusiastic about the project, a lot of hard work would have to go into proving that an almost 40-story building could have a good environmental score card.
The alliance, as a group, has not yet taken an official position on the project, since the plans are preliminary and there have not been any formal proposals made to the city, Schiff said. But she does have her own opinion about it. “To get an email from a developer like that is not actual information,” she said. “That’s PR [public relations].”
Schiff said that she has not received any information about the project, aside from media announcements. She said she also concerned about whether such a large-scale development could truly be environmentally beneficial. “I have noticed that a lot of developers have jumped on the ecological bandwagon,” she said. If the project does move forward, Schiff said, she plans on being involved along the way. “I will question it,” she said. “Just because someone says something is green doesn’t mean it is.”
Borsuk’s group contracted with Built Ecology, a private environmental design group, to study the emissions levels, energy, and water usage envisioned in the development plans. The study concluded that the harvester building would consume even less energy and water than that required for the Platinum Standard—the highest level of energy conservation and environmental design in the rankings set by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). The LEED rating system, which is set by the U.S. Green Building Council, evaluates design, construction, and operation performance of green buildings. The project is also expected to operate more efficiently than CalGreen Title 24 standards, which are evaluated in the same way at the state level.
LEED’s carbon dioxide emission standards for a building with the size and population of the proposed one are 769 tons per year and the Title 24 standards are 976 tons per year. According to the project’s web site, the building will use only 592 tons per year.
Further, reductions in water consumption would come through a grey water system that will use recycled shower, dish washing, and laundry water for toilet flushing. Water usage in the building is set at 12,000 gallons of water per day, while LEED Platinum standards have set water usage for a building of this size and residential population at 18,500 gallons of water per day.
But in addition to environmental issues, Schiff said there are several concerns that need to be addressed if the developer moves forward with the project. The building site would be near the Hotel Oakland, which has been designated as an official city landmark, according to the Oakland Heritage Alliance web site. The former hotel, which now serves as a senior living facility, would likely be affected by a new high-rise in the area.
Oakland City Council member Nancy Nadel, who opposed the original plan when it was introduced in 2007, said she is aware of Borsuk’s new project. “My opinion of the project has not changed,” Nadel wrote in an email to Oakland North. “Because it is the aesthetics and envelope of the project that is at issue, not its greenness. The project is across the street from a beautiful historic building, the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts. The project is part of an historic neighborhood with a height range that is dwarfed by the Borsuk project mass—that is not good design.”
Image: Planned design of Real Estate Transformation Group’s “energy harvester,” a 37-story apartment building at 1443 Alice Street. Image courtesy Mark Borsuk.
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