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Sustainable Building Practices Transformed a Brownfield into Green Housing in Oakland, CA

Oakland, CA, USA

At a Glance

With a former industrial neighborhood becoming a residential hub, a former paint factory brownfield was safely redeveloped into sustainably designed housing that brought 62 housing units to the area.

Problem Addressed

On the border between Oakland and Emeryville, CA an abandoned factory was a blight on an area quickly transitioning from a predominantly industrial neighborhood to one that is residential.

Between 1923 and 1991, the property had been used to manufacture paint and then used as a warehouse from 1991-2000. Due to its past with paint manufacturing, the site was labeled as a brownfield which meant it wasn't in use or being redeveloped due to contamination. In this case, the soil was contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons and the groundwater at the property was also contaminated due to a neighboring paint factory.

With a rush of new residents to the area, Emeryville and Oakland needed to take the steps necessary to safely tear down the existing building and redevelop the one-acre property into a new residential hub that would benefit the surrounding community.

Oakland and Emeryville used/is using sustainable building practices to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

The first step after determining what would take the factory’s place was deconstructing the building and addressing the contamination issues present through soil remediation. The EPA had provided The City of Emeryville with an EPA Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) grant as well as supplemental EPA Brownfields RLF funding to assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse the land. The City of Emeryville allocated $1,175,000 of those funds to Green City LLC, the developer of the new Green City Lofts. As part of the project’s green strategy, over 94% of the building demolition debris was recycled.

This project was very committed to meeting the top sustainability specifications. In starting construction of the new building, the developer followed US Green Building Council’s LEED principles by using recycled building materials and materials from the surrounding areas. One example of the progressive nature of the project was the incorporation of fly-ash concrete in up to 25 percent of the concrete foundation’s cement. Fly Ash is recycled material from the smokestacks of coal power plants and makes concrete more durable. Energy and water-efficient technologies were also utilized to ensure the building maintained its focus on sustainability. Water runoff was collected for use in landscape irrigation, and the parking garage includes 10 electric car charging stations and 46 bicycle spaces.

The resulting project, 5 residential buildings housing 62 units, was proclaimed the greenest multifamily development in Oakland by Mayor Jerry Brown. Nearly one-third of the units have windows on three sides, and all units were designed to maximize natural light and cross-ventilation of bay breezes, reducing heating and cooling costs. Green City Lofts also exceeds California’s energy-efficiency standards through additions like in-floor radiant heating and formaldehyde-free wheat-board cabinets, the latter being made from wheat stalks and reducing forest clear-cutting. The project was a boon for the area, bringing $19 million in redevelopment activities and creating six new affordable housing units.

Outcomes

  1. The city added 62 new housing units, while also reducing blight and remediating polluted soil and groundwater.
  2. Green City Lofts was declared the greenest multifamily development in Oakland and the winner of a Merit Award from the American Institute of Architects.
  3. Green City Loft units are 15% more energy-efficient than California's requirements, setting an example for new residential construction in the city.
  4. The project's 6 affordable units helped meet Emeryville's affordable housing goal.
  5. Residents are centrally located with access to all commuter options and the building has a walk score of 92.

Lessons Learned

  1. Designing a project to satisfy two jurisdictional building codes is tricky. By adhering to sustainability principles and a contemporary design, the project earned an exemption.

Who Should Consider?

Municipalities and towns looking for ways to reinvigorate brownfield sites and make efficient use of developed land.

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