Publication: San Francisco Business Times
Author: Blanca Torres
Date: April 1, 2011

555YVR-Sky DeckDowntown Walnut Creek has done a good job attracting shoppers. Now it’s shifting focus to a new demographic: apartment dwellers.

The East Bay city has a pipeline of more than 1,200 multi-family units, most of which will be built as rentals near the city’s downtown core.

“It’s smart growth,” said Sandra Meyer, Walnut Creek’s economic development director. “You build your highest density housing in areas close to transit and closest to shops and restaurants.”

Many of the projects involve reusing sites such as surface parking lots or existing commercial buildings.

The pipeline includes BRE Properties’ 596-unit proposal to develop land around the Walnut Creek BART station, a proposal from Urban Housing Group to build 300 apartments at the site of the former Longs Drugs headquarters, Mill Creek Residential Trust’s 126-unit redevelopment of a motor lodge and the Village, a 49-unit residential project with 38,000 square feet of retail proposed by Essex Property Trust and Branagh Development.

Other projects in the conceptual phase include preliminary proposals for a 105-unit project at 1250 Arroyo Way from Hall Equities Group and a 157-unit project with 23,000 square feet of retail at the Scott Valley Bank site at 1500 N. California St. from Laconia Development LLC.

The trend toward density has picked up speed over the last few years with condo projects such as Thompson Dorfman’s 555 YVR, an 87-unit condo and live-work unit development, and the Mercer, Prometheus Real Estate Group Inc.’s 181-unit luxury building.

“Walnut Creek is not an urban market,” said John Cumbelich, head of retail brokerage Cumbelich & Associates. “Development, where it’s been appropriately scaled, is bringing in a certain density of housing and de-emphasizing automobiles and suburban houses.”

The condo projects are marketing the ability to walk to Walnut Creek’s Broadway Plaza, restaurants, a movie theater and the Lesher Center for the Performing Arts, Cumbelich said.

“The Walnut Creek council has a history of supporting smart growth,” Meyer said. “They’ve really developed their long-range plans and waited for the markets to be right for the development to be realized.”