Developer has tall obstacles to clear before building 54-story skyscraper in Emeryville

A skyscraper proposed for Emeryville came before the public Thursday night, in a study session before the Planning Commission. 

"I think that a project like this causes a bit of tension," said one commissioner, after presentations by city staff and the developer.

The Vancouver-based Omni Group wants to build the 54 story tower.

At 683 feet, it would be the tallest all-residential building in the Bay Area, and one of the tallest buildings in California. It would feature about 600 apartment or condominium units, of various sizes, and a separate -but connected- office tower, 16 stories high. An open space park and retail stores would occupy the street level. About 1,000 parking spaces are in the plans. 

"It just doesn't fit, it's crazy, it's insane," said one Emeryville man, during the public comment period, "and this would be an absolutely horrible project if this goes through, I don't see any benefit." 

Other residents, however, believe the distinctive tower will establish a new East Bay landmark, and bring vitality to Emeryville. 

"We're finally starting to be like an urban community," enthused one speaker, "and already there are more people walking our streets, I love the design, and I love high-rise living." 

The structure would dwarf everything in the immediate area, and would be more than twice as tall as the Pacific Park condominiums, directly to the north. 

Currently on the property, there is an office building, with a Wells Fargo bank branch, that would remain. 

But another building would be demolished, housing the Emery Bay Cafe and the Allegro Ballroom, a dance school and studio of more than 20 years.  

"It's probably good for the City of Emeryville to build it, they will get more property tax," ballroom General Manager Lydia Wong told KTVU.

Wong said the dance club is moving to a new space in Richmond, regardless of the development, because her rent has more than doubled recently, and now exceeds $20,000 monthly. 

"If traffic is bad now, how much worse will it be?" posed Emeryville resident Eve Harrison, who arrived at the study session with a neighbor, both concerned about how the project could impact congestion around Powell Street and Christie Avenue.  

"We do need places to live but definitely not a 54-story building," agreed Michelle Terman. "A building that's on fill, right next to the highway, and will affect the entire I-80 corridor." 

The developer has tall obstacles to clear, because Emeryville would need to approve code exceptions in many areas including height, housing mix, and parking. 

The developer has yet to detail how the residential units would be divided among those for sale, versus rent, and how affordable they would be. 

Quizzed on prices by a commissioner, Omni executive Nathan Pitters responded, "No, it's too early to say." 

The planning and approval process is still in preliminary stages with many more public sessions ahead.

Sentiment among the few dozen people who spoke split mostly in opposition, providing the developer feedback. 

Some people who attended were simply intrigued about the possibility of an iconic building coming to the East Bay shore. 

"The views of San Francisco would be stunning," said Mark Adams of San Jose, "so I think it's a great opportunity to enhance this community and create a landmark property."