Park district opposes homes on site it sought for expansion

Park district opposes homes on site it sought for expansion

Michele Ellson

East Bay Regional Park District representatives and their supporters voiced their continued opposition Wednesday to a proposed housing development on property the park district had hoped to purchase for an expansion of Crab Cove. And a city staffer acknowledged the park district may have found a way to stop the project in its tracks.

The Planning Board met Wednesday to gather public input on what should be included in an environmental study of the potential impacts that could be created by developing 48 new, single-family homes on the 3.89-acre property that once housed government offices along McKay Avenue.

Representatives of the East Bay Regional Park District told the Planning Board they think voters said they wanted the park district to expand Crab Cove when they okayed a 2008 regional park bond that includes $6.5 million for purchasing the property and expanding the park. And an attorney representing the park district extended the argument it has made in court, claiming the city should have conducted an environmental review before rezoning the property to allow homes.

“This is the only property left for expansion of Crown Beach,” said Brian Holt, a senior planner for the park district. “It’s our belief the project will provide minimal benefits to the public and impact the park. The (environmental impact report) will need to thoroughly evaluate these impacts.”

The park district suffered a setback in February when a judge upheld an earlier city motion claiming the park district filed its lawsuit too late for a court to consider it; the park district has since filed an amended complaint. But another issue they’ve raised could make their legal case moot.

In a May 22 letter, a representative with the California Department of Parks and Recreation said the state agrees with the parks department’s position that McKay Avenue and any utilities that might be built underneath it – and an additional right of way along Robert W. Crown Memorial Beach, which the state owns – can’t be used to provide access to a private development.

“Because the property would no longer be Government-owned, the easement would terminate upon transfer of the federal property to the private developer,” Danita Rodriguez, acting Diablo Vista District superintendent for California State Parks, wrote.

City Planner Andrew Thomas said state and federal officials are disputing the access issue; he said the federal government, which awarded the property to developer Tim Lewis Communities through a public auction, claims the rights belong to whoever owns the property.

“If it turns out the property has no access – we can’t approve a project without access,” Thomas said.

The McKay Avenue property sparked a bitter dispute between the park district, whose representatives say the city was fully aware they have long coveted it for expansion of Crab Cove and city leaders, who have questioned the park district’s lack of involvement in the rezoning process, which they said had been going on for four years before housing was ultimately permitted there.

The property is one of 10 in Alameda where multifamily housing is allowed, and city staffers anticipated that as many as 95 new homes could be built there.

The park district’s opposition to the zoning change allowing housing prompted onetime proponents to backtrack on their approval of it, and the mere mention of its November 2012 lawsuit provokes frustration among city leaders who fear the suit could undo a state-approved housing plan that was two decades in the making.

Attorney Todd Williams said the park district will provide written comments asking the city to consider the impacts of a park expansion on the property, and Thomas said he’d welcome additional details about what the park district has envisioned for the site.

Angela Fawcett, who is president of the homeowners association for the 242-unit Park Webster complex and also, a plaintiff in the park district suit, said she wants the report’s authors to study the proposed development’s traffic and parking impacts, pollution from cars and pets and the impact the project could have on migratory birds.

“This is our life, this is our property, this is our home,” Fawcett said. “Please be very conscious, and ask all the questions to get the answers we need.”

A handful of other neighbors of the proposed development, some of them residents of the Crown Beach townhome complex, offered similar concerns, while parks advocates said housing development would be better situated at Alameda Point, much of which the city received this week.

But one West End resident, Karen Bey, offered support for the plan.

“I know people are resistant to change, but I think this is a positive thing for this area,” Karen Bey said. “I’m highly invested in seeing this area improve, and I think this change would be a positive first step.”

Planning Board members questioned whether the project would generate more traffic than a park expansion; they said they think both options should be studied, along with the potential impacts of sea level rise and earthquakes, and impacts on wildlife. They also used Wednesday’s hearing as an opportunity to express their concerns about the size of the homes that would be built on the site.

“This plan seems like we’re just warehousing people,” Planning Board president David Burton said. “It doesn’t address the proximity to the park. We’re just packing them in here, in a three to four bedroom house, with almost zero outdoor space for these folks. I would like to see something more gracious.”

Comments

Submitted by tomcharron on Thu, Jun 6, 2013

Hopefully the street access issue will be able to kill the City of Alameda's desire to plant 48 giant homes on postage stamp parcels.

The property is much better served in the hands of EBRPD.

Tom

Mpomeroy's picture
Submitted by Mpomeroy on Thu, Jun 6, 2013

48? I read "as many as 95 new homes could be built there". This is just another example of the city's stealthy,piecemeal approach to getting these projects approved under the radar of all of the people who are worried about the increase in traffic that the combined weight of all of this development will have on our city. There should be one traffic study that combines them all, otherwise these reports are just window dressing and don't address the true impact of development.

Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Thu, Jun 13, 2013

I still do not understand why the City of Alameda did not fully support the efforts of EBRPD to take possession of the GSA property. The feds made a serious mistake when they failed to transfer it to an appropriate public agency like EBRPD, and they should not be allowed to get away with that.

There are plenty of other sites for real multifamily housing that will help meet regional housing goals and put homes where people can easily and effectively take advantage of transit corridors like Santa Clara Avenue.