Last week, the Oakland Planning Commission voiced unanimous support for the city's very first GreenTRIP project: 4700 Telegraph Avenue.
One of two north Oakland housing developments slated for construction by the Nautilus Group, Inc (now the RAD group, 4700 Telegraph Avenue is located just a few blocks from the Macarthur BART in the walkable Temescal neighborhood. That’s why Nautilus asked the City of Oakland to approve an extremely low parking ratio of ½ parking space per unit, and why they worked with GreenTRIP to adopt the most innovative strategies we’ve seen yet to help their future residents get around without a car.
Project manager Andrew Cussen grew up less than a mile away from the site and talked with us about how GreenTRIP has helped Nautilus up their game for traffic reduction in the East Bay. Here’s what he has to say about making low-traffic housing a reality in Oakland and beyond.
What is Nautilus Group’s vision as a housing developer?
We focus on urban infill projects that can benefit from our approach to building better buildings. Our team of professionals consists of licensed architects, licensed engineers, and construction and real estate specialists - my background is in structural engineering so in addition to my management role on [4700 Telegraph Avenue], I’m responsible for the structural engineering and seismic design of all of Nautilus’ projects. We’re constantly looking for a better, smarter and more thoughtful way to build projects.
What are you most proud of in your work?
I’m very proud of the fact that we are exclusively an infill developer. Our projects tend to be located in areas well-served by transit. As a result, we’re attracting tenants that tend to have a relatively low overall environment impact. Additionally, I love building in my hometown and creating new homes for both existing and new Oakland residents.
What have you learned from working with GreenTRIP?
GreenTRIP opened our eyes to an array of different traffic reduction strategies. We were familiar with strategies such as car share vehicles and subsidized transit passes. But the GreenTRIP “how-to” guide showed us a whole array of less commonly used strategies such as grocery carts, bikeshare memberships and BikeLink cards that we never would have otherwise provided to residents.
How has GreenTRIP helped your company be more successful at developing housing?
The project analyses that GreenTRIP performs are very comprehensive but presented in a format that neighbors, city staff and others can easily digest. It is easier to present our traffic reduction strategies for a project when there are clear, quantified reductions in vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions. Those outcomes are a success for everyone.
Your 4700 Telegraph Avenue project will soon be awarded the first-ever GreenTRIP Platinum Certification. What motivated Nautilus Group to apply for Platinum?
4700 Telegraph was originally approved by the city in 2006. When we started meeting with neighbors, we heard a lot of feedback from neighbors about doing something progressive with our transportation program. While we were going through community outreach, GreenTRIP unveiled its new Platinum Certification program. Without the input we had from the community we never would have explored a certification.
What’s surprised you about GreenTRIP, or about the way you work as a result of GreenTRIP?
GreenTRIP has helped us identify project supporters that we never would have without the program. Neighbors have come out of the woodwork to support our project once they’ve learned about the proposed traffic reduction strategies and partnership with TransForm.
Would you recommend that other developers work with GreenTRIP?
If a developer is looking at a site in a dense area well served by high frequency mass transit, then I would definitely recommend working with GreenTRIP.
What are you looking forward to gaining from GreenTRIP Connect when it is available?
The Connect tool will be a great way to rapidly explore project feasibility. Project due diligence can often be a rushed process. Connect will make the tools to explore traffic reduction strategies, and the associated benefits, easily accessible.
What are some of the challenges that housing developers face, that transportation and urban planning advocates might not know about?
I think that the link between affordable housing and transportation management is often lost on people. Outdated parking requirements can hurt projects in two ways. Most obviously, consistently overbuilding parking across a region makes projects more costly and drives the cost of housing higher than it needs to be.
Additionally, the space required to put in parking can drastically alter a building’s site plan. Projects often don’t pencil out because the space that would be dedicated to parking significantly inhibits a realistic residential layout. As a result, these financially infeasible projects don’t get built. We’re building less housing than we would be able to otherwise. And if we’re underbuilding housing, then the price of housing goes up.
How do you see GreenTRIP solutions helping people in the communities where you work?
Creating jobs near transit is really important to the success of residential projects also near transit. Nautilus is headquartered in downtown Oakland and we love how accessible it is. We have employees commuting from within Oakland, from San Francisco and from the greater East Bay. 90% of our employees regularly commute via public transit, walking or biking.
What benefits have you seen in other projects that you expect will carry over to 4700 Telegraph (and its neighborhood)?
We know that residents who are less dependent on their cars do more of their shopping locally. The retail corridor along Telegraph Avenue in Temescal has been burgeoning over the past several years. We hope that our residents embrace their local businesses and that the businesses in the neighborhood continue to thrive.
Why do you think that north Oakland is the right place for a GreenTRIP Platinum project?
I grew up in North Oakland about a block away from Rockridge BART. By the time I was in middle school, I could navigate across Oakland and Berkeley on AC Transit or hop on BART to get to the city by myself. As a result, I grew up able to independently explore my city. I wasn’t totally reliant upon on my parents to get around like my friends who lived in the Oakland hills or other areas not as well served by transit. This type of experience wouldn’t have been possible in too many other neighborhoods. I hope other families can have an experience like mine and I think that a GreenTRIP Platinum project allows this by promoting a transit-rich lifestyle in neighborhoods with existing robust transportation infrastructure.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I’m an unreasonably passionate lifelong Oakland A’s fan. (See photo for evidence!)
What project are you looking forward to working on next?
We are in process of developing another site in Temescal located at 51st and Telegraph. It’s located at a very prominent corner in the neighborhood on a parcel that has sat vacant and underutilized for years. It’s a terrific location to welcome new residents to Temescal and we’ve got an opportunity to extend a community-created greenbelt and park through the site.
Beyond that, we’re always looking for the next great project in Oakland. We love the city in which we do our work and hope to keep building here.