Hilltop Mall, Revisited: Developers Envision Nearly 10K New Housing Units – But Critics Worry Current Residents Could Be ‘Priced Out’
on November 2, 2017
When LBG Real Estate Companies purchased the struggling Hilltop Mall this past July, it announced a vision for a rehabilitated, mixed-use hub with a laundry list of amenities, including new shops and restaurants, entertainment, and even small medical facilities. But the developers also want to build 9,600 housing units — a number equivalent to nearly 9 percent of Richmond’s population.
An infusion of new housing units on this scale has the potential to alter the real estate market in both the Hilltop region and also Richmond at large — though the extent of its impact is hard to gauge this early in the game.
Jack Burns, owner of the Richmond-based firm Security Pacific Real Estate, said that an influx of new homes could be a boon for the area.
“There is a huge shortage of housing not only in Richmond but in all of California,” Burns said. “To have more housing could be a positive for everybody in the city, generating taxes and business.”
Housing construction is slated to begin after retail and commercial enterprises are refurbished and new stores are lined up to fill the empty spaces. This would likely occur in phases, according to Doug Beiswenger, managing partner at LGB.
“We’re still very early in this process of figuring out what the timing and phasing is going to be, understanding that we’ve owned the property for around 60 days,” he said.
Cesar Zepeda, president of the Hilltop District’s Neighborhood Council, regards his neighborhood as one of the holdout gems of the Bay Area, and “one of the last places that anyone will be able to build” with 360 degree views of the water.
But Zepeda wants all Hilltop residents to enjoy the view, not just those with high incomes. “We can’t price out our community. We have to be able to build and sustain our community smartly,” he said.
He met with investors and developers prior to LBG’s purchase, and emphasized the Hilltop community’s vision: a mixed-use development that incorporates affordable housing units. But while housing is needed all over the Bay Area, Zepeda said the new owners and the community need to be “realistic and understand what the Hilltop area is able to give.”
It’s not 9,600 housing units, he said.
“They can’t really build that many homes up there,” Zepeda said. “The infrastructure is not there, and it never will be.”
Traffic, he said, is already an issue on Hilltop Drive and Richmond Parkway, the latter a main thoroughfare for the city.
It is also unclear whether LBG will opt to construct affordable housing units or pay a fee to the city of Richmond instead — in compliance with the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance, which requires developers to do one or the other.
“We haven’t gotten that far to make any decision like that,” Beiswenger said.
Nikki Beasley is the executive director of Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services, a nonprofit that aims to ensure affordable homes and rentals for Richmond residents. To Beasley, this level of development sends up a red flag: The area is primed for gentrification.
“It’s considered a nicer area, a little bit more infrastructure where people can go and live,” Beasley said. “Richmond is one of the last cities to be impacted by gentrification. But it’s coming.”
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