EDITOR’S NOTE: The following interview/question & answer session with David Trachtenberg, architect of the under-construction Point Richmond Business District housing development was conducted by Laura Paull, a Pt. Richmond resident and journalist.
By Laura Paull
Special to The Point website
The Point, a new downtown housing project, has been in the works for several years. But many Point Richmond residents suddenly had questions when the developers broke ground this winter:
Why were fences going up? Did anyone know what was going on behind Mechanics Bank?
As residents watched the structures rise steadily through the winter rains, the project became the frequent subject of conversations in the Natatorium across the street. The ladies in the locker room wanted to know:
Would the units be affordable? By whose definition? Would there be senior housing? What about the homeless? And who could possibly live next to those screeching trains?
A simple question about the development posted on Next Door Point Richmond June 20 blew up, as it is sometimes said in social media. At the time of this writing, it had 82 comments.
This question and answer with architect, David Trachtenberg of Berkeley was to see what answers he could provide. This is not an investigative piece. Many aspects of the project were not included in this short conversation. But one point he made clear in the interview was that this project was viewed, debated, and approved overwhelmingly by the Point Richmond Neighborhood Council, under the leadership of PRNC Vice President Jordan DeStaebler, three years ago, and pushed for approval from the City of Richmond Planning Department.
LAURA PAULL - Many people are concerned about how this housing project is going to change the “look” of historic Point Richmond. Who designed The Point, and who owns it?
David Trachtenberg: My company, Trachtenberg Architects, designed the project. The ownership entity is Point V Apples LLC, a Tiburon-based California Foreign Limited Liability Company. The Managing Partner is Integrated Property Company, and the Design-Builder is WEST Builders, Inc.
LAURA PAULL: You have a reputation as an architect sensitive to social issues and community concerns. What was the concept you were going for with the project?
David Trachtenberg: This project, though privately owned and not government subsidized, responds to the overall need for more rental units in Point Richmond. We had many large, well-attended community meetings before launching the design stage. The Point is based on the principle of the “pocket neighborhood. It’s pedestrian oriented and designed to foster a sense of community among the people living there. The housing units are focused inward toward a shared commons. Cars are all parked at the front edge of the project, in this case behind the Mechanics Bank, rather than at the doorstep of each dwelling. This allows the project to preserve precious site area for people rather than for driveways and garages.
LAURA PAULL - What were the particular challenges of this site?
David Trachtenberg - This site, right at the main entrance to the town, is an oddly shaped piece of surplus railroad land bordered on two sides by active railroad tracks. It’s near the freeway. The bus stops right in front of it and the elementary school is across the street. But mainly the triangular shape of the site was a challenge, and the potential noise, and the need for it to look like an attractive welcome to Pt. Richmond.
LAURA PAULL: So how did you deal with these issues architecturally?
David Trachtenberg - In keeping with the small town character of Pt. Richmond, these will be two and three-story buildings, not all the same height. All of the units have small private outdoor or rooftop gardens. For the ambient noise, the buildings will have quadruple pane windows and spray foam acoustic insulation on all exterior walls and attic spaces. People are already managing to live in older Pt. Richmond dwellings right near the train tracks, and our buildings will be far quieter for residents.
LAURA PAULL: So what are we going to see when this project is completed this fall?
David Trachtenberg - There will be a total of 27 residential rental units on the site, including 12 one-bedroom apartments on the ground floors, and 15 two-or three-bedroom apartments on the second and third floors. The building design is that of traditional party-walled row houses. At the entry of the site is a walled parking court for 30 cars.
This opens into a triangular shaped interior garden commons, defined on two sides by the row houses. The open end of the triangle faces south to catch the sun and frames a view of the historic Natatorium and the hills beyond. This inward facing scheme provides the residents with a sense of community and provides a peaceful respite from the outside world.
The front of the project at the intersection of S. Garrard and W. Cutting contains 1,130SF of ground floor commercial space. The architecture of this piece of the project recalls the civic scale and proportion of the Natatorium across the street so as to mark this important gateway to Point Richmond.
LAURA PAULL: Is there any variance in cost, i.e. are any of units designated as low-income or below market rate?
David Trachtenberg: The developers opted to pay a significant sum, around $450,000 to the City's Housing Trust fund in lieu of providing below market rate units on site. Many locals encouraged us to pay the fee, citing that Point Richmond had a fairly large number of affordable housing buildings around the downtown area.
LAURA PAULL: What would you say to local concerns about the project’s impact on the quality of life in the Point: increase in traffic, parking, pedestrian safety?
David Trachtenberg: It’s a fairly small project that provides its own parking for residents. We've taken a disused, brown field site and transformed it into much needed, well -located housing. I think people are going to come to like it.