Built on a 150-acre parcel of a 225-acre site once owned by a mental hospital, Rivermark is the kind of project urban planners can point to as a model for sustainable, livable design. With an average density of almost 20 units per acre, it will provide close to 1,900 owner-occupied units of urban housing smack in the middle of Silicon Valley's cultural and commercial scene.

"Nearby are some high-rent gated communities, but those don't really make a community," notes Mark Day, architect with Dahlin Group Architecture Planning, the firm that made the master plan a reality. "What we wanted was to avoid having each unit on an island apart."

To create product diversity, each of the three big builder partners who formed the Rivermark development group--Centex, Shea Homes, and Lennar--was allowed to offer two different residential for-sale products, each aimed at a different income bracket.

"Typically, in a development like this, one builder comes in and takes a whole block, builds it out, and calls it 'something Gardens,'" Day notes. "But we wanted to create a more eclectic neighborhood."

Playing a shell game with densities turned out to be the best solution. The plan called for higher densities (50 per acre) on the commercial core, which allowed for sparser single-family product in other sections, at the same time meeting average density requirements. "We turned all of those houses to the street," Day continues, "and spent a lot of time creating sociable spaces, with front porches and tree canopies. We even raised pads [front yards] 24 inches so that we could move houses closer to the sidewalks, at the same time preserving the sense of private space.

"This project is about getting back four hours of your life," he adds, referring to the daily commute many people who live out of town endure. "We're located near transit, and a planned 10-foot-wide pedestrian path will soon connect Rivermark to a light-rail station. But people still want a little place to barbecue, a little yard. Our challenge was to give them all of that."

Categories: Community with mixed housing types (grand); Infill community (merit); Entrant/Architect/Land Planner: Dahlin Group Architecture Planning, San Ramon, Calif.; Developer: Rivermark Partners, Concord, Calif.; Landscape Architect: NUVIS Landscape Architects, San Ramon

Lauri Fehlberg

Food First

The need for a grocery store played a surprising role in getting Rivermark rolling. "This area has needed a grocery for a long time, so the politics demanded getting a grocery store built up front," says architect Mark Day. As a result, he says, planning officials gave Rivermark a much easier ride through the permitting process. "That was their No. 1 thing," he explains. In addition, he says, the finished project will have other neighborhood mainstays including a K-8 elementary school, a park, and a branch library, along with a small police substation and fire station.

Eric Figge