This Tuesday, the new Council will get its first chance to vote on an issue relating to residential development at Alameda Point. And that means that Mayor Trish Spencer and Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese will get their first chance to show whether they meant what they said – or said what they meant – during the campaign.
The item on the agenda calls for Council to authorize engaging a consulting firm to prepare a “specific plan” for the Main Street neighborhood at the Point. That’s the area in the northeast corner that contains the “Big Whites” – once naval officers’ homes – and other former Navy housing. It includes 200 housing units now being operated by the Alameda Point Collaborative and two other “supportive housing providers.”
The “conceptual planning guide” adopted by the prior Council calls for turning this area into a “mixed-use residential neighborhood with a variety of building types and complementary small-scale, neighborhood-serving commercial, service uses, urban agriculture and parks.” The zoning ordinance permits single-family housing as of right in this area; whether multi-family housing will be allowed is left for determination by the “specific plan.”
It’s a fair bet that the “specific plan” for the Main Street Neighborhood ultimately prepared by the consultants selected by staff – Urban Planning Partners Inc. – will include multi-family housing. The consultants propose to begin by performing a “Market Demand Assessment” that considers a “range of appropriate housing types, including rental and for-sale housing, and single-family and multifamily configuration” for the area. Based on this assessment, the consultants will “develop a series of alternative site planning concepts,” one of which will become the “preferred site plan alternative” in the “specific plan.”
How many total housing units will the “specific plan” propose for the Main Street Neighborhood? It’s an open question. The request for proposals didn’t specify a number, and the consulting agreement doesn’t, either. Based on our calculations, as many as 425 new housing units – separate and apart from 200 new units to be built to replace the existing “supportive housing” units – could find their way into the “specific plan” for the area.
We get this number this way: Start with the 1,425 new housing units permitted by the City’s conveyance agreement with the Navy. Subtract the 800 units planned for the area designated as Site A in the Waterfront Town Center area. Subtract the 200 units earmarked for “supportive housing.” That leaves 425 units for everywhere else at the Point.
At one time, about half of these remaining 425 new units were slated for the “adaptive reuse” area, in particular the Bachelors Enlisted Quarters. But that was before the prior Council authorized City Manager John Russo to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement with an outfit calling itself “Alameda United Commercial LLC” for the BEQ.
Originally, AUC proposed to turn the BEQ into assisted senior housing, independent senior housing, student housing, and office space. Then, last November, the plan shifted to using the site for “an International school (K-12) with a boarding school only for junior high school and up, commercial offices, senior facility and recreation/dinning [sic].”
Neither of these proposed uses would have counted against the 1,425-unit housing cap. But no matter: They ain’t gonna happen anyway.
When we contacted Alameda Point Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Ott to confirm the current status of the cap, she told us that the ENA for the BEQ had “expired” without a deal being reached. (This follows the collapse of negotiations between the City and AUC over the group’s proposal to build two hotels and 200 condos on the taxiways next to the Seaplane Lagoon).
So, unless staff decides to “reserve” 200 units for future residential development at the BEQ, we’re back up to 425 units for the Main Street Neighborhood. That should give the consultants plenty of room to work with.
There’s one other feature of their proposal worth noting.
The Alameda Municipal Code ordinarily requires a minimum of two parking spaces per unit for dwellings less than 3,000 square feet and a minimum of three per unit for dwellings more than 3,000 square feet. But the Alameda Point zoning ordinance approved by the prior Council re-wrote these requirements for the Point. Rather than minimum requirements, the ordinance allows a maximum of 1.5 parking spaces per unit for multi-family housing and a similar maximum (the exact ratio left for determination by the specific plan) for single-family homes.
Once again, it’s possible to predict where the “specific plan” will end up. Urban Planning Concepts intends to conduct up to three case studies of residential developments “where single-family residential units have been constructed pursuant to parking requirements of less than two spaces per unit.” It then will “draw conclusions regarding the potential market viability of parking reductions for single-family homes in the Main Street Neighborhood.” We won’t be surprised if the conclusion turns out to be favorable.
So there you go, Ms. Spencer and Mr. Matarrese: On the table is a proposal to begin work on a “specific plan” for residential development in the Main Street Neighborhood that will increase the number of new housing units, including multi-family units, at the Point and discourage two-car households from considering buying any of the newly built single-family homes.
This is a picture we know will delight the members of the Planning Board who succeeded in getting the prior Council to implement their “vision” for the Point. In fact, we’d suspect their only objection will be that the “specific plan” doesn’t go far enough. (Why not just ban automobiles from the Main Street Neighborhood altogether? After all, it’s only a short walk or bike ride from there to the new “transit hub” at the Seaplane Lagoon).
By contrast, the proposal for the “specific plan” is unlikely to please the less enlightened Alamedans who see new housing at the Point as exacerbating traffic congestion and overburdening the General Fund. These people formed the core of support for Ms. Spencer and Mr. Matarrese, both of whom ran on a platform of restricting residential development throughout the City. In fact, during the campaign Mr. Matarrese argued against any new housing at the Point.
Now that they’ve taken office, the new Mayor and Vice Mayor find themselves in a quandary. They may object to the extent of residential development proposed for the Point, but it may be too late for them to do much of anything about it.
All of the basic planning documents, including an environmental impact report, a master infrastructure plan, and a zoning ordinance, already have been adopted. Both the EIR and the MIP assume that 1,425 housing units will be built at the Point; the zoning ordinance permits only multi-family housing (and no single-family homes) at the prime waterfront location.
Ms. Spencer and Mr. Matarrese might well have voted against some or all of these planning documents had they been on Council at the time. But they weren’t. And the documents are on the books. Do the Mayor and Vice Mayor want Council to tear them all up and start all over again? That road would seem to lead to chaos.
In addition to the basic planning documents, the prior Council approved a “specific plan” for the Waterfront Town Center calling for “lower-density multi-family residential use” near Main Street with increased residential density closer to the Seaplane Lagoon. They then voted to enter into an ENA with Alameda Point Partners, LLC for a project that includes a minimum of 800 new market-rate housing units in the portion of the Waterfront Town Center designated as Site A. The latest design – also to be presented Tuesday – shows a row of townhouses and apartment buildings running along Ralph Appezzato Memorial Parkway from Main Street to the Seaplane Lagoon.
The City spent $200,000 of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s money (and $50,000 of its own lease revenues) on the Waterfront Town Center “specific plan,” and the ENA requires the City to “negotiate in good faith” for six months over the terms of a Disposition and Development Agreement for Site A. True, Council still will have to approve any DDA. But do Ms. Spencer and Mr. Matarrese want to wait until the final deal is ready — and then urge Council to kill it? That seems like an awful waste of resources.
(Fortunately, they won’t have to worry anymore about the impact of any projects promoted by AUC).
Short of advocating such drastic action, what can Ms. Spencer or Mr. Matarrese do to keep their promise to put the brakes on residential development at the Point? In fact, the Main Street Neighborhood may be not just the first, but the only, area where, as a practical matter, the new Council can exercise any control over housing.
If the Mayor and Vice Mayor truly want to restrict residential development on the former naval base, it makes no sense for them to support preparing a “specific plan” that will lay the groundwork for building as many as 425 new housing units in the Main Street Neighborhood, especially with 800 units already in the pipeline for Site A. Indeed, if they vote for it, they’ll have taken another step toward ensuring that all of the 1,425 units permitted by housing cap actually get built.
Consistency with their campaign positions may lead the Mayor and Vice Mayor to vote against the staff recommendation. But there is a political dodge available if they’re so inclined.
Staff placed the item on the consent calendar, so if no one calls for it to be removed, Council members can vote for (or against) the entire calendar rather than each individual item. That way, they won’t need to go on the record as supporting or opposing the “specific plan” and its implications for residential development at the Point.
Even if the item does get pulled, it can be argued that a vote to proceed with preparing a “specific plan” is just a way to keep the City’s options open. After all, once the plan has been put together, the City won’t actually have to use it. (The zoning ordinance does require some sort of “specific plan” for the Main Street Neighborhood).
And keeping the City’s options open won’t cost anything. According to the staff report, Urban Planning Concepts’ fees will be fully paid by another MTC grant. Unlike the “specific plan” for the Waterfront Town Center, the City won’t have to pony up any matching funds; its contribution will “be provided through in-kind staff time.”
We don’t know whether Ms. Spencer or Mr. Matarrese will take this way out. Likewise, although we suspect that Council members Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Jim Oddie will want to move forward with the “specific plan,” we’d sooner predict whether it will ever rain again than how Councilman Tony Daysog will vote.
Whatever happens Tuesday, the opponents of residential development at Alameda Point will get a clue as to whether they’re fighting just another lost cause. It should be interesting.
February 17, 2015 staff report: 2015-02-17 staff report re Main St. neighborhood specific plan
Proposed consulting agreement: 2015-02-17 Ex. 2 to staff report – Consultant Agreement