Fremont residents might gain up to 7,500 new, local jobs. But there’s a caveat: unless the employees already live in the city, these newly employed will likely have to commute. Without the corresponding construction of new housing to mitigate commutes, increased traffic, pollution and parking difficulties are the inevitable side effects of this sort of growth.

The Fremont City Council recently approved the rezoning of Ardenwood Technology Park (the Park) to accommodate an anticipated influx of diverse businesses. The types of intended businesses include:

  • advanced manufacturing plants;
  • research and development offices;
  • small commercial retailers; and
  • casual restaurants and food services, such as delicatessens.

The Park spans approximately 150 acres and consists of 32 individual parcels.

The parcels are rezoned into three subareas:

  • five “gateway parcels” collectively called Area 1;
  • 10 “edge parcels” collectively called Area 2; and
  • 17 “central parcels” collectively called Area 3.

The whole swatch of parcels is situated among Paseo Padre Parkway, Kaiser Drive and Dumbarton Circle, and run through by Campus Drive. The Park is also adjacent to the heavily trafficked Route 84.

Area 1 rezoning in particular increased maximum building height from 75 to 115 feet. Additionally, the maximum allowable floor area for all the parcels combined increased from 2.3 million square feet to 4 million square feet.

Fremont expects the rezoning to expand the Park in tandem with the ever-growing Silicon Valley. However, no specific projects for the Park have been proposed at the time of this writing, nor have any commercial tenants been put under contract.

Like many Bay Area cities, Fremont may not be ready for the side effects such a singular zoning motion may reap. This commercial expansion aggravates the region’s far-reaching housing supply crisis without mitigation efforts, mixed zoning or upgraded residential zoning density.

The Ardenwood Tech Park rezoning: weighing the pros and cons

The 7,500 jobs expected to result from the Park’s expanded zoning guidelines seem to yield unrefuted benefits for the unemployed and underemployed in the region. However, the city’s standing demographics suggest otherwise.

Already, 74% of employed Fremont residents commute to their jobs by driving, and another 8.3% use public transportation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While new business projects at the Park have the potential to employ some of these commuters, existing businesses simply looking for new hubs will likely transfer tech employees to the new locations, increasing commuter rates from other areas of the neighboring Silicon Valley into Fremont. With commuters come traffic, pollution and parking difficulties, all of which can be costly to Fremont residents, businesses and commuters — whether by decreasing employee quality of life or by inciting not-in-my-backyard (NIMBYs) protests.

However, the inclusion of different levels and types of businesses throughout the Park ranges from basic labor skills to elite professions — a suitable upgrade which balances Fremont’s high-earning and highly educated population with economically diverse employees of all income tiers.

Given the average household income for Fremont residents is around $114,000 annually, unskilled residents seeking employment will benefit from the inclusion of food service, small retail and small business establishments. In turn, the more Fremont residents are locally employed and saving money on commuting, the more the local economy blooms as residents spend and earn in the same city, a virtuous and self-sustaining cycle.

Until specific projects are proposed for the Park’s parcels, the potential effects of the rezoning remain to be seen. Will the Park really attract a diverse collection of businesses that will employ a similarly varied and robust collection of employees?

For now, other Bay Area city councils need to take note of Fremont’s willingness to reexamine zoning restrictions to accommodate the daily growth of their urban population — although for the greater benefit, such reexamination needs to occur in the housing sector first to remedy the supply crisis immediately at hand. Once Bay Area residents have access to rental units within their financial means, they are better able to advance through the workforce and eventually obtain the coveted “American Dream” of homeownership at last.