SAN LEANDRO — The five acres of verdant land that sit next to the downtown BART station are vacant now.
But 10 to 15 years down the road, that land could become the linchpin that influences the rest of the city's revitalized downtown area, with 700 residential units and 200,000 square feet of commercial space as part of the city's transit-oriented development plan.
That was the focal point of a tour along the BART line on Saturday orchestrated by the Great Communities Collaborative, a Bay Area coalition of nonprofit organizations.
"We were just trying to get the neighborhood involved in this transit location," said Marla Wilson of the collaborative. "And as the city focuses on the opportunities for the sites around BART, we want them to make the most of it."
In September, the City Council adopted a transit-oriented development strategy, which calls for more places to shop, work and live within a half-mile radius of Davis and East 14th streets.
The council in February approved the first project for the several parcels near the San Leandro BART station as part of that plan.
On Saturday, more than 40 people representing the city, development firms, community organizations and residents all traveled on BART to tour several other transit-friendly projects nearby to get a sense of what San Leandro could become.
With the hot sun burning above, the participants walked through transit developments at the Oakland Coliseum, Hayward and Union City stations.
Each one left a different impression on the tour participants.
As the group arrived at Lion Creek Crossings, the transit development near the Coliseum station, Carlos Castellanos of the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation — the owner of the development — lauded the project's progress.
Before the transit-friendly project was built, he said, the neighborhood was run-down and undesirable.
But with an infusion of mixed-income housing and amenities such as a state-of-the-art computer lab, "we have turned this neighborhood around," Castellanos said.
Mayor Tony Santos said he was impressed by the project and saw the correlation with San Leandro's potential. But he noted that the city has a few more advantages to offer, mainly the fact that San Leandro's transit-oriented development will include retail and more density, and sit in the heart of downtown.
The group also visited the transit village near the downtown Hayward BART station as well as the site of Union City's future transit-friendly development. Right now, it is still being built, but participants learned about the housing, offices and BART renovations taking place there.
One lesson San Leandro officials learned from that project was the challenge transit-oriented development poses to parking.
Mark Evanoff, Union City's redevelopment agency manager, said parking has been the most expensive challenge for his city so far.
"So it's important for all citizens and planners to take parking into consideration," he said.
By the end of the day, participants said they had learned many lessons that could be included in San Leandro's future downtown transit-oriented development.
From seeing the other sites, resident Donna Reed said she learned it was possible to maintain productive low-income housing in each transit-friendly project.
Lindsey Imai of Urban Habitat said she learned that noise can be abated when a project is built near BART.
And resident Linda Dana said all the other projects' success could be duplicated in San Leandro, although she had one concern in particular.
"The potential could be very good for San Leandro," Dana said. "But we have to take into consideration the families that are going to be living in these locations. They will have children, so what's going to be the school situation?"
Councilman Michael Gregory, who is probably the council's foremost green and transit-friendly advocate, said he only wished more people could have a chance to take the tour.
Most of the people who were on the tour already supported transit-oriented development, he said, so it's the folks in the city who aren't as convinced yet who need it the most.
Eventually, he said, he thinks they'll come around too.
"This is still new to San Leandro," he said. "But as we change demographically, I think we'll be very capable of growing with this. This is exciting."