On Point: What’s next for Site A?
On Point: What’s next for Site A?
For the past several months, the development and design consortium Alameda Point Partners has been working to refine its plan for Site A, a 68-acre waterfront plot that is proposed to one day hold 600,000 square feet of commercial uses, 15 acres of new parks – and 800 new homes.
The development framework okayed by city leaders in 2014 envisioned the site as a catalyst for revitalization of the Point, a transit-hubbed beacon alerting industry that the Point was open for business. But some Island voters apparently saw something different: A future traffic nightmare clogging Alameda’s bridges and tubes.
Those fears arguably helped Trish Herrera Spencer eke out her 120-vote mayoral victory over Marie Gilmore, and arguably also helped Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese secure a council seat after a four-year absence from the dais. On the campaign trail, Matarrese said unequivocally that he does not want homes built at Alameda Point, while slowing growth was Spencer’s primary pre-election promise.
Development of Site A (or any portion of Alameda Point) can’t proceed unless four of the council’s five members agree to move forward. So if two council members have already said they oppose building homes at Alameda Point, what are the chances that the development will move forward?
Joe Ernst of srmErnst, the lead developer’s representative, said his group understood that getting a fourth vote would be “more of a challenge” after the election. That said, they wouldn’t be spending the time and money on the process if they thought seeking approval were a lost cause.
“We think it’s doable because of the merits of the project,” Ernst said during an interview with The Alamedan this week.
His pitch: The community stands to gain more from development of Alameda Point than development elsewhere, because it brings new roads and utilities to an area of town that desperately needs them, more affordable housing than other developments are required to build and millions for a ferry terminal and toward a new sports complex.
“Slower growth doesn’t necessarily mean no growth,” Ernst said.
Indeed, Spencer, who noted that the prior council signed a deal to negotiate with the developers that must be executed in good faith, said she hasn’t yet made up her mind on the project.
“Regardless of the change of the individuals on council, at this point, its incumbent on all of us, including myself, to seriously consider the developer’s proposal,” Spencer said during an interview with The Alamedan this week. “I’m continuing to listen to the community feedback. I plan to seriously consider the proposal.”
But Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese said he can’t support the proposal because it could add more homes than the city’s general plan currently envisions. The plan says the city has land ready to hold an estimated 2,245 new homes – not including Alameda Point.
“The traffic generated by 2,245 units will be difficult enough without adding the 800 units in Site A. I believe we should go after non-residential projects like the (ferry maintenance and operations) facility that create jobs and pay for infrastructure and expand park facilities,” Matarrese said. “I’d like to pursue alternative ways to pay for the basics instead of overloading Alameda Point with housing.”
He said he’d consider Site A under one condition: If city leaders subtracted took 800 units of potential housing on other sites out of the general plan.
Still, council members who previously voted to move forward at the Point – and are concerned about the deteriorating conditions on the property – aren’t giving up.
“I will say it’s clear to me how much is at stake for the city and what enormous opportunities we will realize if we can move forward with Site A,” said Councilwoman Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, who said she will carefully review everything and that she doesn’t make up her mind until it’s time to vote.
“We’re closer now than we’ve ever been to beginning to realize the potential of redeveloping the base,” Ashcraft added. “And I hope we can stay the course.”
Ashcraft and Tony Daysog were part of the unanimous November 18 vote to select Alameda Point Partners as its preferred developer for Site A, while Jim Oddie, then a councilman-elect, urged the council to move forward with the selection. Conversely, both Spencer and Matarrese asked the council to allow the new council to make the decision, after they were seated.
From the dais, Spencer has offered a flurry of concerns about the development proposal. She has questioned whether the housing proposed to be built will be affordable enough for Alamedans facing a shortage of it, and whether the project will generate too much traffic.
Matarrese has expressed concerns about the traffic the development could generate and has also questioned whether the city has the right to grant the developers’ request to waiver Measure A in order to build 200 units of affordable housing into the project. (City staffers have said the state’s affordable housing laws trump Measure A.)
On March 3, the council okayed contracts for development of plans for a Main Street residential neighborhood at the Point, though Spencer urged the council to build more affordable housing there than what’s being considered now and Matarrese asked that the plans include an option to just replace existing quarters now used by the Alameda Point Collaborative.
Advocates of the Site A project have mounted a full court press at City Hall in an effort to win council approval. The project has received backing from Alameda’s Chamber of Commerce and affordable housing advocates, and two prominent Alameda Point tenants – the Collaborative’s Doug Biggs and Bladium’s Brad Shook, who threatened to leave the Island if fixes to the Point’s crumbling infrastructure aren’t made soon.
The developer has also successfully convinced a flurry of regular Alamedans who have said they’d like to see the base put back into productive use to speak out at council meetings. And one additional constituency has made an entry into the debate: Renters who are being squeezed by rising costs and diminishing supply.
City staffers have also made the case for housing, saying the businesses the city wants to attract to the Point will want to see some housing available to shelter their workers. In a dramatic illustration of their point, city leaders walked away from negotiations with a pair of developers interested in building a corporate campus on the Point because they were unable to secure a commitment from either to fund road, utility and other infrastructure improvements on what was then known as Site B.
Ernst, whose company is building out the Harbor Bay Business Park, said that is an old model for attracting businesses. Today’s business owners want to be located near homes and amenities, he said.
“If we’re truly going to make the base a job generator and a stable, durable job base, we have to create the environment for it. Those are mixed use, complete communities,” he said.
In a shift perhaps aimed at appeasing council members who don’t want housing built at the Point, staffers have also begun arguing that the homes could inject much-needed supply into the local rental market – two-thirds of the proposed housing units will be rentals under the current plan – and offer ownership opportunities for first-time buyers, empty nesters and seniors, in addition to housing for future Point workers.
City staffers have also said that the homes – and residents – are needed to justify a transit hub at the Point helmed by a third Alameda ferry terminal and served by rapid bus service, which they have said will serve all of Alameda as traffic worsens on and off the Island.
Alameda Point Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Ott said the Site A plan is the culmination of decades of work and that it was created to be responsive to the community’s desires for the acreage – including a smaller number of homes than some earlier developers proposed.
“This plan, this project – from a staff policy standpoint, (it) implements the plans that have been in place for 20 years,” Ott said.
She said city staff is aware four votes are needed to proceed with the plan – but that it’s not staff’s job to count them.
“It’s not our job to count votes, but to put forward best policy recommendations we can, and that’s what we’re doing,” Ott said.
The plan as it stands now is to seek a first round of approvals for 650 homes, 96,000 square feet of commercial space and 8.25 acres of parks over the next two to four years and approvals for the remainder of the project – 150 homes, 400,000 square feet of commercial space and more than six additional acres of park space – in 2021 or 2022, when the city takes title to the remainder of Site A (the Navy is still cleaning up a portion of the property).
A development agreement is due by mid-May, unless the city opts to extend negotiations. Ott said the Planning Board is expected to consider approving a Site A development plan on May 11, and the council could consider a development agreement in May or June.
Alameda Point Partners is leading a public walking tour of Site A at 10 a.m. Saturday. Council members are expected to attend.
Spencer urged members of the community to get involved and voice their opinions about the developer’s proposal.
“I do welcome and encourage the community to participate in the council meetings as well as attend the open houses and give their feedback,” she said. “This is the time to share any and all concerns with Mr. Ernst and his colleagues.”