Housing 'blueprint' up for public discussion

Housing 'blueprint' up for public discussion

Michele Ellson
Alameda housing

The city wants your thoughts on a new draft of its “blueprint” for housing development, which lays out where new homes could be built, how many could be built and what programs and the policies in place to support home building efforts.

City staffers are asking for written comments on the draft plan by April 28, and anyone who’s interested can come speak at the Planning Board’s May 12 meeting, where the board will review the plan and offer a recommendation to the City Council. The council is expected to consider approval of the plan – which also needs the state’s sign-off – in June. It’s available to view on the city’s website.

The draft plan lays out a list of potential development sites that could accommodate up to 1,723 new homes between 2015 and 2023 – including sites that will be exempt from Alameda’s Measure A, which effectively prohibits development of apartments and other multifamily housing. Some 975 of those homes have to be affordable to households with low and moderate incomes, while the rest can be market rate.

The draft plan says the city has enough land to accommodate 2,245 homes – more space than the city needs to supply. But city staffers have said the number of homes each site could accommodate are flexible; development proposals submitted over the past few years haven’t hewed to the numbers listed in the city’s existing plan, in some cases prompting city staffers to encourage developers to offer bigger projects.

The City Council okayed a plan that’s in effect through the end of this year in 2012 – its first state-approved blueprint, which is the housing element of the city’s general plan, in over two decades. The existing housing plan generated controversy over some of the sites the city chose to allow housing to be built on and also, for a list of 10 sites it included that would be exempt from Alameda’s development-limiting Measure A. But the city also faced a lawsuit from an affordable housing group if its leaders failed to put a plan in place, as well as the loss of state transportation funds that have been tied to approval of the plans.

The new plan may be just as notable for what it does not include as it is for what it does.

While the draft plan exempts some potential development sites from the strictures of Measure A – a move that generated controversy when it was inserted in the city’s existing housing development plan – it does not list a pair of potential development sites that have been the subject of heavy opposition. Nor does it list Alameda Point, where 1,425 homes are expected to be built.

Measure A backers questioned the legality of the city’s end run around the 40-year-old law, though the city’s lawyers said in a memo released to the public that they believed state housing development law trumped the local ordinance. And city staff chose to remove the disputed Neptune Pointe property, which is the subject of both a lawsuit from the East Bay Regional Park District and a proposed ballot measure, and the former Island High School campus at Eagle Avenue and Everett Street – even as the city’s housing authority is preparing to obtain it from the school district.

The draft plan’s inventory of potential development sites includes a vast swath of estuary frontage, where development plans are in various stages of completion. Development of the city’s northern waterfront and Alameda Point are among the plan’s major initiatives, the draft says. It will also prioritize sustainable, transit-friendly development.

The waterfront sites includes the Del Monte warehouse property, whose owners, Tim Lewis Communities of Roseville, have just introduced plans for up to 414 lofts, flats and townhomes; the Chipman warehouse site, which was recently sold to Lennar Corp. and where 89 homes are planned; the Boatworks site on Clement Avenue, which has an approved development plan allowing 182 homes but whose owner has said he’d like to make some changes; and a tank farm owned by Pennzoil, which the draft plan says has been on and off the market for years.

Other properties where homes may be built include the Navy’s former North Housing site at Singleton Avenue and Main Street, which could hold up to 806 homes on 37.4 acres; the Shipways site on Marina Village Parkway, which could hold another 146 homes on about eight acres; and a pair of Park Street sites owned by Ron Goode, which once housed a car dealership but is now on the market and could accommodate another 20 homes.

The city has seen some new housing built over the past several years, due both to city leaders who may be considered to be amenable to housing – and specifically, affordable housing – and a recovering economy that has seen demand for housing in the Bay Area spike. But the numbers are nowhere near those permitted in the housing plan.

Over the past few years the city has seen development of affordable apartments in the former Islander Motel and additional units for developmentally disabled people at Jack Capon Villa. Hundreds of homes are now being built in the Alameda Landing development, by the Webster Tube, while a handful of other housing developments are being considered by the city.

Some of the proposals – like one for the Del Monte warehouse – far exceed the amount of housing envisioned for a particular site, while others – like Trident Partners’ original plan for 69 single family homes at the Chipman site – were lower than envisioned, prompting city staff to suggest changes.

The housing element plans are mandated by a state law intended to promote the development of affordable housing. Cities routinely flouted the law by imposing development limits and failing to approve plans that could gain state acceptance. But that changed after state lawmakers approved legislation tying some transportation funds to the plans – and housing groups succeeded in pressing some high-profile suits against cities that limited development.

The housing numbers for Alameda were generated by the Association of Bay Area Governments, a regional planning agency; they’re supposed to reflect the amount of housing the Island will need in order to accommodate new residents. While the city is required to accommodate the development with its zoning and other policies, though, it is not required to ensure that the housing is actually built.

In addition to zoning land to allow housing, the city has put in place a measure that requires 15 percent of the homes built in any new development to be affordable to lower income residents and another that permits developers who build more than that the chance to seek a pass on setback and other requirements, including Measure A.

But the new plan could jettison a list of long-running efforts to promote home building, including a program to rezone industrial properties to allow homes and another to evaluate public agency property for future home development, the city’s virtually unused live-work and condominium conversion ordinances, its school employee housing program and even online posting of its vacant land inventory.

New initiatives the city will pursue if the plan is approved include new rules making it easier to build or modify homes accessible to seniors and disabled people.