By a narrow 4-2-1 vote on May 24, 2022, (McLaughlin, Jimenez, Willis and Johnson voting “yes” and bates abstaining) the City Council approved a project with 76 tightly packed single-family homes in the former quarry west of Seacliff Drive. The Original Project, approved by the City Council in 2018, consisted of up to 200 condominium units in 15 buildings and associated common areas and amenities on approximately 18.4 acres. It was a well-designed medium density project that provided much-needed housing in an urban location.
This downsizing of the previously approved multifamily project with good design and generous common areas, to a tightly packed, poorly designed, unimaginative subdivision of single-family homes has become a recent pattern in Richmond, with the Terminal 1 project heading the same direction.
Why is this happening? For many years, Richmond has been an island of affordability in a sea of Bay Area real estate value inflation. Out of town developers assumed that most people did not want to live in Richmond and planned accordingly, concentrating on low-end products that could sell cheap and still yield a profit. During COVID-19, homebuyers looking to distance themselves from potential sources of infection, concentrated on single-family homes. As working from home caught on, the location of a home became irrelevant, so homes in rural areas or even out of state became possible.
Richmond seems to be uniquely attractive to risk-averse developers with lack of vision. Several years ago, we saw Richard Poe place the poorly designed Richmond Riviera project at Marina Bay on the ballot as Measure N, a single-family project more suited to a rural community. Even Claudia Jimenez’ husband panned the project.
“The Riviera project goes against all the thinking in urban plan work for the last 30 years,” said Eli Moore, a researcher at UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society who co-authored a 2015 report on gentrification in Richmond. “If you look at it from any angle — job creation, greenhouse gas emissions, quality of life, economic vibrancy of the neighborhood — higher density (building) is much more beneficial in a location like that, so close to the region’s core,” Moore said.
Like Poe, the Quarry developers, New West Homes, looked backwards at Richmond’s history of comparatively low home prices and COVID-related home-buying trends and decided that the past is the future, essentially preparing to “fight the last war.” At the City Council meeting, the developers said they were targeting market sales prices of around $700,000. They whined about a lagging Richmond market and high construction costs. The Richmond market, however, has already passed the developer’s $700,000 market projection, with homes closer to the shoreline easily going for over a million dollars. An 1,100 square foot home in Point Richmond with no view and no parking recently sold for over $1.1 million.
The two most recent Projects, NOMA and Waterline, both attached multi-family designs, sold out even during COVID.
Starting in the high $800,000s, these three-story residences are approximately 1,531 to 1,804 sq. ft. and feature sleek architecture, flexible downstairs live/work spaces and rooftop terraces (at select homesites). Rows at NOMA is the place to stay connected and discover a fresh new way to live in the Bay Area. Source: NOMA
Figure 1 - NOMA, with a great view of I-580, sold out
Figure 2 - Waterline
Figure 3 – Source: Richmond Housing Market: House Prices & Trends | Redfin
Looking beyond the density issue, the Quarry Project design is an insult to Richmond. The facades, are dominated by two-car garages instead of welcoming entrances and porches, a design deridingly known as a “snout house.”
Figure 4 - The Quarry Project "snout house" design
Houses in the Quarry Project are tightly packed with no usable front or rear yards, no usable open space and no amenities. Other than the location, which is near the shoreline and has good access to I-580, there nothing to distinguish this project.
Figure 5 - Tightly packed homes with no usable open space and no amenities
Why our City Council, the majority of which purport to be environmentalists and supporters of new urbanism and smart growth, support a horrible project like this is a mystery to me. And Claudia was even trained as an architect.