The City Planning Commission approved a 10-year plan to guide development and investment in Oakland on Tuesday, capping off more than two years of community engagement in the neighborhood. 

The Oakland Plan aims to bring jobs to the neighborhood, develop more housing, improve livability and pedestrian safety and foster a welcoming environment for Black residents, immigrants and students. While the plan seeks to create more green space in the area, it also proposes denser development

The plan’s development incorporated more than two years of community engagement efforts, which featured about 100 meetings. Commissioner Sabina Deitrick, who is a University of Pittsburgh professor, abstained in voting on the plan, with the commission otherwise voting unanimously in favor.

The commission postponed a public hearing and vote on the plan at its May 17 meeting as the city’s Planning Department worked through hundreds of public comments, about 40 of which the department said were “substantive” and largely related to equity, affordable student housing and sustainability.

In all, the department received about 800 public comments concerning the Oakland Plan and about 150 regarding zoning, according to a presentation from the department. Many were clarifying questions, and about 40% highlighted concerns with the plan or suggested changes. Another 25% were “generally” positive or supportive. 

City planning staff also discussed clarifications and additions to the plan’s goals and policies within the areas of infrastructure, development, mobility and community, including: 

  • Establishing connective programming, in which organizations in Oakland collaborate to better the lives of long-term residents and students
  • Ensuring student housing is safe, affordable and as close to campus as possible, and on campus when possible
  • Providing renters, including students, with access to resources in addition to ensuring safe and healthy living situations
  • Valuing the neighborhood’s character when designing buildings and using high-quality materials in their construction
  • Practicing inclusive contracting in addition to hiring, with developers and employers meeting or surpassing set targets for minority, women and veteran-owned businesses
  • Working with the disability community to ensure designated on-street parking is sited appropriately.

About a dozen people offered public comment during the meeting. Some said the planning process did not sufficiently engage residents. 

“The [plan’s] Steering Committee reproduced the power imbalance that exists in Oakland, with residents outnumbered by institutional and economic development organizations,” said Andrea Boykowycz, assistant director at the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation and member of the committee. Some residents became discontented as a result, she said. 

Georgia Petropoulos, chief executive officer of the Oakland Business Improvement District, said the organization celebrates the plan’s goals but believes more time is needed to evaluate some of its components. Petropoulos requested that the plan revise its vision statement, among other recommendations.

Hearing some residents share concerns in the final stretch of the planning process was disappointing for Deitrick, who said that a plan for community’s development should ideally involve its wholehearted support. 

There are many different viewpoints in the neighborhood, Deputy Planning Director Andrew Dash said.

“You all have done an extraordinary amount of community engagement,” commission Chair Christine Mondor said. “I’m left wondering why the community feels the way it does still, and how we might do our planning processes better despite all the really great stuff that happened here.”

The commission voted in favor of the plan on the condition that its vision statement would be revised with input from the Steering Committee.

Zoning proposals 

Accompanying the discussion of the Oakland Plan were proposals for three new base zoning districts in the neighborhood. 

Under the proposals, the public realm district in the Forbes and Fifth Avenue corridor would be rezoned as an “Urban Center – Employment” district, placing limits on residential development. The public realm district around the Boulevard of the Allies would become an “Urban Center – Residential Mixed Use,” partly intended to create more affordable housing. 

Some zones between Dawson and Louisa streets, in Central Oakland, would be labeled as a “Residential – Mixed Use” district to allow for the development of apartments for students and residents with lower incomes. 

The city Planning Department revised the proposals to remove hospital and university campuses as permitted uses in the two residentially focused districts and to permit assisted living facilities and add fresh food access in the “Urban Center – Employment” district, among other changes. 

Residents who provided public comment were divided over the height restrictions, with some advocating for taller buildings to foster development. 

The commission voted in favor of a motion to approve the proposal, but recommended to Pittsburgh City Council conditions including limits on structured parking and that city planning staff provide council with information that proposed height restrictions will not negatively impact the Coltart Street area. Council has final approval of all zoning changes.

Emma Folts covers higher education at PublicSource, in partnership with Open Campus. She can be reached at emma@publicsource.org.

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Emma is a higher education reporter for PublicSource. In her role, she collaborates with Open Campus, a nonprofit newsroom focused on bolstering higher education coverage in local communities. Emma is...