September 24, 2018
SunCal Breaks Ground On Scenic Oak Knoll
Tom Pfister, Contributor
In the foothills of Oakland, California, Oak Knoll is a master-planned, mixed-use development that will feature more than 900 homes situated on 183 acres above and east of MacArthur Freeway.
SunCal, Oak Knoll’s developer, specializes in mixed-use and master-planned communities nationwide, with well-known developments from the Golden State to the East Coast, and southward to metropolitan Austin, Texas. Headquartered in Irvine, California, SunCal’s signature communities emphasize quality of life, environmental sensitivity and recreational opportunities.
“We expect to see from 300 to 400 units completed in a mix of single-family detached and single-family attached neighborhoods,” says SunCal’s Senior Vice President David Soyka, on Oak Knoll’s housing units over the next three years. Completing the entire development could span a decade.
That initial phase of residential development will also include a village center with 80,000 square feet of neighborhood-serving retail and other commercial space, a community center, and 84 acres of parks and open space.
“While it is difficult to speculate on what the market will determine the builders’ prices to be,” said Soyka, “its location, views of the bay and its close proximity to the other desirable neighborhoods of Montclair and Claremont–we wouldn’t be surprised to see Oak Knoll home prices of more than $700 per square foot.”
During the first phase of Oak Knoll, and in keeping with their corporate commitment to smart planning, SunCal will uncover and restore a creek, a technique known as daylighting. Decades ago, when the U.S. Navy acquired the acreage, they enclosed the waterway in large drain pipes and concrete channels. SunCal dialogued with the community and surrounding neighborhoods, and will undertake creek daylighting and construction of an adjacent, publicly-accessible trail that links into the East Bay Regional Park District trail system.
Hart Howerton is designer of Oak Knoll’s landscape master plan, entry monumentation and the parks master plan, as well as the neighborhood design and street plan. The firm worked on SunCal’s Potomac Shores in Prince William County, Virginia and Edge-on-Hudson in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Hart Howerton, with headquarters in New York and San Francisco, is recognized as one of the top 50 coastal landscape architects by Ocean Home, the luxury coastal lifestyle magazine.
From Greatest Generation To Dormant Decades To Home
The premises’ 100-year history is storied, revealing its verge of revitalization in the 21st Century. The site was formerly the Oak Knoll Golf Course and Country Club, which opened in the 1920s, but folded during the Great Depression. Shortly thereafter, during World War II, the U.S. Navy opened Naval Hospital Oakland in 1942. The Naval hospital began with a modest 25 barracks to treat military personnel wounded in the Pacific.
By 1945, 135 buildings dotted the landscape as the hospital was treating more than 6,000 patients with a staff of 3,000. Years later, during the Korean conflict, the daily average patient count was 2,500. During the Vietnam War, a 597-bed midrise complex was dedicated in 1968 to increase and modernize the hospital’s capacity.
Over its history, the Oakland installation served as one of the Navy’s medical teaching centers, and became known for clinical research, major medical advances and a cancer program approved by the American College of Surgeons.
By 1990, federal legislation established the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission “to provide a fair process that will result in the timely closure and realignment of military installations inside the United States.” In their report to the President in 1993, the Commission agreed with the Secretary of Defense, recommending closure of Naval Hospital Oakland. On April 1, 1996, after a half-century of care, the hospital closed. According to SFGate, about 1,140 Navy personnel and civilians were laid off or reassigned, almost four times the amount of the report’s definition of major job losses from base closures.
The Commission’s report attempted to reassure all communities who were losing their military bases, that “there can be life after a base is closed.” The report continued:
However, economic recovery is in large part dependent upon a concerted community effort to look towards the future. The same dedicated effort expended by communities over the last several months to save their bases should be redirected towards building and implementing a reuse plan that will revitalize the community and the economy.
Encouragement aside, the Commission’s reassurance doesn’t stop disruption in the economy. Since the Naval hospital closed, nearly 23 years had passed until SunCal’s groundbreaking ceremony in September 2018 for infrastructure.
Although there was no way for the Commission to have known the fate of the closed bases, the lesson is for local community stakeholders anywhere. When an institutional property changes hands or use, dormancy, vandalism and deterioration can take root for decades.
In late 2005, a joint venture between SunCal and Lehman Brothers acquired Oak Knoll from the Department of the Navy, for a reported $100 million. The developer engaged with the community to foster a planned development. After extensive outreach and public meetings, the mixed-use revitalization concept was supported.
By 2008, the bankruptcy filing of Lehman Brothers, at a minimum, delayed the capable development of Oak Knoll. Tight credit and the Great Recession had devastating effects throughout the country. Despite setbacks, SunCal wanted to continue the development.
Finally, in 2014, SunCal acquired Oak Knoll for a second time.
It’s no surprise then, when Soyka said at the groundbreaking ceremony this month, “We’re very pleased to get shovels in the ground; all of the hard work by so many people is finally resulting in a bright, new chapter in the life of this property.”
To pay tribute to the Naval hospital, service personnel, veterans groups and individuals connected to the facility’s lasting impact, SunCal plans to build a memorial in Oak Knoll.