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Suburban homes with no parking? Utopian vision in the mix as East Bay city taps developer

For nearly 50 years, retired Cal State University East Bay Professor Sherman Lewis has sustained a quixotic, one-man campaign to transform a defunct Hayward gravel quarry into a virtually car-free utopian village.

Bayview Village, as he called it, would be a new kind of suburb. It would be a 30-acre pedestrian paradise with 700 units and just 100 parking spots. The parking would be far from the homes and would be leased separately. A free electric “village bus” would shuttle students to the adjacent Cal State campus and commuters to the Hayward BART Station. “Village vans” would cart children to school and families to shopping or cultural outings.

“Proximity, density and design,” Lewis said, would make walking “a major form of transportation.”

But while some of Lewis’ ideas may be regarded as far-fetched and unrealistic, much of Hayward’s current vision for the property was shaped by him. At the end of January, developers are expected to submit plans for the former gravel pit and the outlines of the plan reflect Lewis’ priorities, though some details differ.

The city is calling for a dense development with 500 student housing beds and 500 other housing units. Developers are asked to come up with plans for shuttles connecting the property to both Cal State and BART. There is no minimum parking requirement — developers can include as little parking as they want, unusual for a suburban project.

“We are selling to an audience that doesn’t need a routine use of a car — Cal State people who are two minutes up the hill. People who work downtown and take BART. They are six minutes down the hill by bus,” Lewis said. “I’m an environmental extremist. I have a vision of the future.”

Hayward officials say Lewis’ plan has driven much of the conversation about the future of the quarry — whose steep hills and pits are covered in grass, dirt, shrubs and eucalyptus trees. But his insistence that there be only 100 spots could kill developer interest.

“In terms of the densities, it very much meets what Sherman was trying to do,” Hayward Mayor Barbara Halliday said. “Obviously, we are not prepared to ask developers to follow his plan for parking, which is almost nonexistent. We don’t want to tie developers’ hands by eliminating parking.”

Halliday, who lives near the quarry, said that she would support a parking-light project in the flatlands closer to BART.

“That hill is steep even for bicyclists,” she said. “It’s a demanding trek. I’m not sure that is where car-free works best.”

New car-free and car-light projects are slowly gaining traction. In San Francisco, a 101-unit apartment project with no parking on a Muni line won a key approval from the Planning Commission on Thursday. In Oakland, developer Patrick Kennedy is trying to build 1,000 units at the West Oakland BART Station with only 59 parking spots. San Francisco developer Culdesac broke ground last year on a massive car-free development in Tempe, Ariz.

But the Bay Area suburbs have seen few housing projects light on parking.

Lewis saw the potential starting in 1972, while the concept of “smart growth” was in its infancy. He became interested in the quarry when he and a group of residents fought a proposed Route 238 bypass in the area. He spent time imagining what could be built on the site as an alternative to six lanes of car-choked asphalt. It took until 2010 until the bypass idea was finally dropped after multiple lawsuits had dragged on for decades.

The abandoned bypass project left Caltrans with about 400 parcels in Hayward and unincorporated Alameda County. Hayward ended up working out a deal with the state agency to take ownership of dozens of parcels totaling 200 acres. In all, the city expects about 2,000 homes to be built on the lots. On one site, Trumark Homes is proposing 75 homes. On another, Eden Housing is building 180 affordable apartments and a charter school. On a third site near the South Hayward BART Station, True Life Communities is putting up 190 homes.

Halliday said Sherman was a “big part” of killing the bypass and deserves some credit for Hayward’s parcels.

“It would have cut Hayward in half and really emphasized the divisions we already have between the flatlands and the hills,” the mayor said. “It’s good the freeway was not built.”

Hayward has a development pipeline of nearly 3,700 units, about half of which are under construction, according to city spokesman Chuck Finnie. Much of the housing is clustered around the city’s two BART stations, where the city recently raised height limits to 11 stories.

City officials say it will be up to developers to deem how much parking makes sense at the quarry site.

“It’s very difficult to finance a project in Hayward with no parking,” said Deputy City Manager Jennifer Ott. “I’m not sure the market in Hayward is ready for that. If this were downtown San Francisco, I’d be with him.”

Still, she said that the market will “test” Lewis’ plan.

“We have tried to be as aggressive as we can be considering this is a more suburban location,” Ott said.

Kennedy, the developer who has pushed for car-light and car-free projects, said that building with no parking at the quarry would be tough because the site is in the Hayward Hills.

“That will be an uphill, upwind battle, literally,” he said. “We don’t build unless it is an easy 10-minute walk to a BART station. It has to be an easy walk on a dark and rainy night. We are all-in on car-free development but it has to be really convenient.”

Starting and maintaining a shuttle system is logistically complicated and costly, he said.

“It’s a big deal to provide transportation for 700 households,” he said. “Building in the Bay Area is hard enough without adding something like that.”

Meanwhile, Lewis hasn’t given up on his car-light village, but he is resigned to the likelihood that it will take a “Hail Mary” to pull off.

“Bittersweet is the right phase,” he said. “It’s sweet because we stopped the freeway. It’s sweet because we’ll get fairly dense housing. But it’s bitter because we are not getting the Bayview Village stuff.”

He said he is looking for a developer able to see into the future.

“These developer guys are very smart about what has worked in the past, but they tend to look in the rearview mirror,” he said.

J.K. Dineen is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @sfjkdineen

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