A person walks through the North Berkeley BART station parking lot
BART expects a development team will build between 500 and 1,200 apartments atop what is now a parking lot at the North Berkeley station. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

BART has chosen a development team led by a San Francisco nonprofit to take on the effort to build hundreds of apartments at the North Berkeley station.

The transit system’s board of directors voted Thursday morning to have its staff negotiate for the project with BRIDGE Housing Corporation, which has joined with for-profit developer AvalonBay, and two other nonprofit builders, the Berkeley Food and Housing Project and East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation.

“This team rose to the top because of their long track record of success with recent projects that have many similarities to the master-planned transit-oriented development at North Berkeley,” said Shannon Dodge, BART’s principal property development officer, who also cited the group’s “deep familiarity with the local area.”

The firms have worked on other projects on BART property, including BRIDGE’s affordable Mural apartments at MacArthur station, EBALDC’s plans for senior housing at Lake Merritt and market-rate apartments Avalon built at the Dublin/Pleasanton and Pleasant Hill stops.

BRIDGE and the Berkeley Food and Housing Project also collaborated to build two related projects at 2012 Berkeley Way, the center that opened this fall, providing both affordable housing and supportive housing with services for formerly homeless residents.

That team beat out a group led by the for-profit developer Republic Metropolitan for an exclusive negotiating agreement with BART. Agency staff said the Republic team, which includes nonprofit developers Satellite Affordable Housing Associates and Resources for Community Development, would also be qualified to take the project on. If BART officials can’t reach an agreement with the BRIDGE team, the transit system’s board authorized them to negotiate with the Republic team as a backup.

BART is expected to launch a similar process to select a development team for the Ashby station early next year.

It’s not yet clear precisely what the BRIDGE team will propose for the 5.5-acre parking lot that now surrounds the North Berkeley station.

Many key specifics are still up in the air, such as how many apartments the team would build, what percentage of them would be affordable and how much revenue the project would generate for BART — a crucial detail for a transit system that faces a dire financial outlook as it struggles to recover from the pandemic.

Agency staff said Thursday that the developers would likely build between 500 and 1,200 apartments, with at least 1,000 total beds, at the North Berkeley site. Berkeley leaders have committed $53 million to ensure at least 35% of the homes built at the North Berkeley and Ashby stations are affordable.

That lack of detail led some BART directors to oppose entering into exclusive negotiations with the BRIDGE team.

Directors Debora Allen, John McPartland and Liz Ames argued BART should instead ask both the BRIDGE and Republic teams to develop more detailed proposals for the station site, then pick from those plans.

“We have no financial analysis before us on the feasibility of this project, for either of the proposers, and I think we need that to make a good decision,” Allen said Thursday. “It’s a healthy process for us to go through to have both proposers give us a presentation on what they plan to produce and what that benefit is to BART.”

Other board members strongly opposed such a move, saying it would slow down or even kill the effort to build homes at the North Berkeley station, which has for years been one of the city’s most contentious and closely watched development sagas. Directors and BART staff said the specifics Allen and others want will depend on a range of other factors that are still being developed, from planning for how riders will access the station once most of its on-site parking is removed to Berkeley’s design rules for the property.

“We cannot delay,” said Director Rebecca Saltzman, who represents the North Berkeley station and has been involved in efforts to build housing on the site since they began in 2017. “The developers, right now, could not put forward what their project would look like.”

The BART board would see specific details about the project before its members take a final vote on any deal with the BRIDGE group, agency staff said. The project will also go through a city approval process.

Saltzman and five other board members voted to enter into the negotiating agreement; Allen and McPartland voted no, while Ames abstained.

BART hopes to break ground on the North Berkeley development in 2025.

Avatar photo

Nico Savidge joined Berkeleyside in 2021 as a senior reporter covering city hall. Born and raised in Berkeley, he got his start in journalism at Youth Radio as a high-schooler in the mid-2000s. Since then,...