North Concord BART housing in trouble as developer walks
CONCORD — The endless curse of large-scale housing developments in this East Bay city falling into limbo has struck again, this time at the North Concord BART Station, where a plan to replace a massive parking lot with 360 new homes appears to be dead.
Brookfield Residential — a division of multinational real-estate giant Brookfield Asset Management — had been negotiating with BART to cover nearly 20 acres worth of parking spaces with the new housing, a quarter of which would have been listed at affordable prices.
But three years after securing the project, Brookfield has walked away and provided no formal reasons for its departure, BART officials said this week. Representatives for Brookfield did not respond to multiple interview requests.
“Folks leave for a variety of reasons and priorities change within companies,” said BART Director Mark Foley, whose district contains the North Concord station. “I certainly would like to understand if there was something BART did that we could avoid repeating in the future.”
The failed deal is a blow to the city’s efforts to meet stringent California housing requirements and combat a statewide housing crisis.
And it is another example of the struggle by Concord and other Bay Area cities to find private developers who can stomach lower profit margins and produce much-needed affordable housing as labor, materials and demand drive building costs higher.
Last month, the City Council granted the tentative master developer of the former Naval Weapons Station — the East Bay’s most ambitious housing project — a lengthy extension after the developer attempted to obtain property rights from the city before providing any detailed plans for the proposed 13,000-home project.
The council meets next Tuesday to discuss its future housing goals. A staff agenda report incorrectly projects 776 housing units at the North Concord station — most iterations of the now-stalled project have planned for 360 homes.
Whatever the number, BART’s vision of transforming the seldom-used, often deserted North Concord station will now go on hold indefinitely. The agency has taken on housing projects at several of its stations in the region, aided by a state law that fast-tracks new transit-oriented housing past otherwise lengthy public processes.
The property is directly adjacent to the former Naval Weapons Station site, which has encountered numerous hurdles to even get a committed developer on board. BART had been working with city officials to develop a vision of contiguous neighborhoods where residents could easily walk to the station from their homes.
Now, Brookfield’s mysterious exit has put the project back to square one.
BART Director Debora Allen said in an interview the agency should simply hold off building homes at the Concord property “until there’s clear direction for the Naval Weapons Station.”
“I don’t think it makes sense to do the BART one first,” Allen said. “But we are bound to (completing it) because we have a majority of board members who want to develop homes on the parking lot.”
BART had first chosen a partnership of Brookfield and Walnut Creek-based developer Iman Novin to build the new housing.
Later, the relationship between Brookfield and Novin dissolved, and the two developers then competed against each other for the project, with Brookfield emerging as the winner in 2019.
Novin, who previously ran for Walnut Creek City Council, subsequently filed a contract lawsuit against Brookfield, and the two sides reached an undisclosed settlement earlier this year, around the same time that Brookfield told BART it was quitting the housing development. Novin’s office could not be reached for comment.
The BART project is not Brookfield’s lone Concord effort. The developer fell just short of being selected for the Naval Weapons Station development last summer, when the City Council voted 3-2 to favor locally-based Concord First Partners — linked to the controversial Seeno family of developers — over a global corporation.
“This was exactly one of the issues with Brookfield,” Concord Councilman Edi Birsan said in an interview. “They had this North Concord BART deal for some time and they’d done nothing for the city with it.”
Earlier this year, amid a crisis point in the city’s relationship with Concord First, Councilwoman Carlyn Obringer suggested that Brookfield and another former candidate for the Naval Weapons Station project had previously signed agreements to hire local labor and might still be available for the job.