Caltrain Railyard Redevelopment Back on the Table in San Francisco

An incredibly complex development proposal for 20 acres of Caltrain railyard is back on the table, nearly a decade since it first made news in San Francisco.

2 minute read

October 17, 2022, 11:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Mission Bay and Potrero Hill

The neighborhood of Mission Bay has been completely transformed in recent years. A development proposal for the Caltrain railyard could further the transformation. | Mark Schwettmann / Shutterstock

A proposal that would redevelop the Caltrain yard in San Francisco into a massive redevelopment project—which has been making the Planetizen newswire since 2013—has new life.

According to a paywalled article by J.K. Dineen for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Caltrain yard is one of the Bay Area's most complicated sites—20 acres of railyard straddling the space between the neighborhoods of South of Market (SoMa) and Mission Bay. One of the key challenges to the project would be moving the railyards underground.

So after four years of quiet, what does the new interest in the project look like? Dineen reports:

This week Caltrain and developer Prologis, which owns the 20-acre site, are working jointly with architects and engineers and other public agencies to complete a “business case study” that will lay out solutions for both the future of rail in San Francisco and potential development — likely a lot of housing — on whatever land is freed up by the reconfiguration of the station at Fourth and King streets and the rail yards that stretch four blocks.

A virtual public meeting was held earlier this month, and already the conversation around the project is taking a different tone in a city famous for development controversy:

The potential redevelopment of the rail yards is different from other big public-private megaprojects because the conversation will not be driven by the normal San Francisco fights around affordable housing or building heights or open space. It will be shaped by the question of what best serves the future of Caltrain and high-speed rail.

San Francisco is one of the cities in California facing the prospect of losing local control of zoning regulation after running afoul of state law and not planning adequately for new housing—a group that includes Redondo Beach in Southern California and Palo Alto and Cupertino in the Bay Area.

While the 20-acre site is capable of providing thousands of housing unit, according to Leigh Lutenski, a deputy director at the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the project's backers are "thinking in broad strokes about land uses and densities" at this point in the process.

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