Trails, gardens included in draft park plan
Trails, gardens included in draft park plan
A future Jean Sweeney Open Space Park could include a BMX bike park, a gazebo, an outdoor classroom and more. Contributed art.
Gardens, biking and hiking trails, a lawn-fronted gazebo and covered picnic pavilion are some of the features proposed for the new Jean Sweeney Open Space Park that’s planned for 22 acres of onetime Alameda Belt Line property.
Recreation and Park Commission members will offer their thoughts Thursday on the draft plan for the park, which will make the rounds of city commissions and will be the subject of an online survey seeking the public’s feedback before coming back to the commission and then, the City Council, for approval.
Landscape architect and Planning Board member Kristoffer Köster created designs for the new park free of charge.
The plans call for more “active uses” along the outside edges of the park and a quieter, more serene setting at its heart. The draft plan puts parking, restrooms and natural playground areas at the eastern and western edges of the mile-long park, with a wide, paved Cross Alameda Trail along its northern edge that will be lighted at all times and a tree buffer on the southern side to shield residents from park noise.
The conceptual designs show a 250-plot food production garden behind the Alameda Food Bank and a BMX bike park at the opposite interior edge of the park, while the center is reserved for butterfly and Zen gardens, a frog pond, a gazebo, outdoor classroom and picnic area. The very center of the park would be occupied by an urban forest, and biking and hiking trails would be scattered throughout.
The plan is to be used as a “road map” for final park design, development – and fundraising; a cost estimate and funding sources for the planned park have yet to be provided.
Fundraising may not be the only challenge facing the city as it seeks to erect a park on the former rail yard, a study on the proposed production garden showed. The site has some soil contamination and is littered with old railroad ties and debris, according to the study, which was conducted by the Alameda Point Collaborative.
Debris, possible contamination and uneven ground could make siting a community garden behind the food bank as proposed both costly and challenging, the study says while building the garden to serve at the opposite end of the park would require a truck to haul its bounty to the food bank.
The former rail yard is dotted with creosote-soaked rail ties, the study says, and students who tested the soil found high concentrations of lead in some areas. It is also subject to illegal dumping, the study says.
A raised berm loaded with construction debris lines the northern edge of the site, the study says.
“During our walk-through and soil testing, there were pieces of pipe, insulation, lumber, roofing material, wiring, cement and asphalt in the surface and immediate subsurface across a large area of the (Alameda Belt Line),” it says.
In order to avoid possible soil contamination and the ever-present railroad ties, the study’s author recommended a 250-plot garden grown in raised beds or containers; food bank clients would be given preference for plots.
The late Jean Sweeney, the park’s namesake, discovered an old contract that required Union Pacific to sell the Belt Line property back to the city for 1924 prices, plus improvements; in 2010 the city purchased the land, which includes the mile-long, 300-foot-wide rail yard and the narrower rail line property, for just under $1 million. The former rail yard is bounded by Constitution Way, Atlantic Avenue and Sherman Street.
A 2012 master parks plan identified the property as an ideal spot to build a park, and the city has been working toward that goal, conducting workshops and an online survey to gather residents’ thoughts on what should be included. In May, the council approved half a dozen potential uses to be included in the park, a list that includes walking and biking trails, natural open space, picnic areas, community gardens, natural playgrounds and open lawn space.
In September, the commission declined to pursue a proposal from a group seeking to set livestock grazing on five of the rail yard’s 22 acres as a land management and food production effort. They said the proponents of the Alameda Land Preserve waited too long to offer their plan.