Author: Blanca Torres

Walnut Creek is a suburban city undergoing an urban make-over, and condo development 555YVR is yet another sign of the change.

With it’s a sleek, modern look and short distance from public transportation, the 87 unit project is proving that high-density living can work in cities dominated by single-family homes.

“There is a certain buyer that really wants the lock-and-go lifestyle instead of the obligations that go with a single-family home,” said Bruce Dorfman, principal of Thompson Dorfman Partners, the firm that developed 555YVR.

The project came online in summer 2009, during one of the worst markets for residential real estate, but has managed to sell close to 40% of its units in six months. Prices range from $300,000s to mid-$700,000s for one and two-bedrooms that measure 76- to 1,280 square feet.

Those prices are down about 20% from what the developer projected when the development was planned prior to the financial meltdown.

“We’re very happy with how this project is positioned and we’re happy with the sales,” Dorfman said. “We’ve had to adjust our expectations.”

The building offers features such as a gym, floor-to-ceiling windows, high-end finishes and appliances, 9- to 10-foot ceilings plus the “sky lounge,” a rooftop terrace with an outdoor kitchen, fireplace and views of Mt. Diablo.

“Do you want to be driving a long way into the city because you don’t have BART access or do you want be on our sky lounge after work?” Dorfman said.

555YVR was the only major condo building to hit the Walnut Creek market in the last year and is giving buyers options that are hard to come by in the Interstate 680 corridor.

Besides offering condos, 555YVR includes five live-work units. A yoga instructor was the first user to put one into escrow.

Thompson Dorfman began focusing on building projects near transit in the mid-1960s at a time when city planning departments and some buyers were skeptical about the urban living experience, Dorman said. Now the reverse is true.

“High-density is something we encourage in our downtown and close to the BART,” said Jeremy Lochiro, a senior planner with Walnut Creek. “Walnut Creek is primarily an in-fill community. We are looking for redevelopment opportunities what would provide a mix of housing and retail and office space.”

One of the challenges of developing a transit-oriented project is assembling a site, Dorfman said, and offering more than just proximity to transit. 555YVR is within a mile of dozens of amenities such a shopping, restaurants, a movie theater and the Lesher Center for the Performing Arts.

The city’s chic shopping district has a regional draw with Broadway Plaza, a Nordstrom and Macy’s – anchored outdoor shopping mall, which will welcome the East Bay’s firsts Neiman Marcus department store in 2012.

“At the end of the day, we’re glad we developed the project that was close to BART and is surrounded by all the retail and downtown Walnut Creek,” Dorfman said. “If it was far in suburbia, it wouldn’t be so successful.”