The Harbor Bay Isle residents who have been fighting to preserve the 10-acre site of the Harbor Bay Club for recreational use only may have relaxed last week when the Council majority endorsed a 2023‑2031 Housing Element draft that left the Club off its inventory of residential “opportunity sites.”
Previously, Council had adopted a revised General Plan that kept the Club out of a classification that sanctioned multi‑family housing. So now both of the key land‑use documents maintain the status quo for the Club.
As it turns out, however, the strife isn’t o’er and the battle isn’t done. Indeed, the real contest may be just beginning.
During the last year or so, City Planner Andrew Thomas has been warning the Harbor Bay residents (and Alamedans generally) that an application for redeveloping the Club site was on its way. Two weeks ago, his prediction came true when the planning department received an application submitted jointly by two entities called CHDG Investments, LLC, and Jackson Square Properties. (More about them later.)
The application seeks amendments to the General Plan and the zoning ordinance to allow the developers to build a “state of the art” fitness center, including two tennis courts, an “oversized lap and community” pool, and a “fitness floor” with “luxurious locker rooms with steam room and sauna” on the property. And, oh, we almost forgot: the project also will include a five-story building with 400 new housing units (five studios; 45 one‑bedroom apartments; 40 two‑bedroom, two‑bathroom apartments; and 10 three‑bedroom, two‑bathroom apartments). The application states that 59 of these units will be “affordable” by households earning between 60 percent and 120 percent of Area Median Income.
Here’s the site plan:
The amendments sought by the application are necessary because the Harbor Bay Club site is not currently classified in one of the mixed‑use categories in the General Plan, nor is it currently zoned for multi‑family housing. For nearly two years, Harbor Bay residents have fought successfully against any move to allow residential development on the Club site. If the application is granted, their victory will turn out to have been short-lived.
And the Harbor Bay residents aren’t happy about the prospect. After reviewing the application, Jeff Petersen, one of the leaders of the campaign to preserve the Club site for recreational use only, told us that the facility described in the package “is not sufficient to meet community needs for recreation” for at least three reasons:
- The outdoor recreation space currently “is used for swimming, tennis, pickleball, basketball, a kids’ playground, picnic tables, barbeques and large grass fields for kids to play tag, soccer, etc. The proposal cuts all of this, except for a pool and two tennis courts on top of a garage.”
- The outdoor recreation space currently “serves a lot of children with after‑school care, kids’ camps and clinics. All of these camps and clinics will be lost because the space where they are hosted will be taken away.”
- Two tennis courts “will not be anywhere close to satisfying the demand for tennis at the Harbor Bay Club. It is absurd to think that anyone would pay for a ‘tennis membership’ at a club with two courts that are on a roof!”
(At our request, Mr. Petersen also sent us a statement outlining the residents’ case for recreational-use-only zoning generally. You can find a link below.)
As our regular readers know, we’ve been covering the saga of the Harbor Bay Club since March 2014, when developer and property owner Ron Cowan unveiled a scheme to bulldoze the existing club and replace it with 80 single‑family homes. (Mr. Cowan withdrew his plan after Council held a special meeting and indicated it wasn’t inclined to rezone the site.) Today, we’ll focus on how the Club has fit into the City’s efforts to prepare a revised General Plan and a new Housing Element.
Since February 2019, City staff has been working on revising the General Plan, which is considered the blueprint for future development in Alameda. Among other things, the General Plan establishes broad land‑use classifications and contains a diagram showing their location across the city. Here’s the diagram from the current General Plan:
The zoning ordinances (Alameda Municipal Code Ch. 30, Art. I) are supposed to be consistent with the General Plan, but they are more specific and more detailed than the Plan, creating a number of individual zoning “districts” and identifying the uses permitted in each of them.
The General Plan adopted in 1991 put the Harbor Bay Club site in the “Commercial Recreation” land-use category. This classification, which also applied to marinas, was more descriptive than prescriptive. It appeared to reflect reality – the marinas and the Club were “commercial” enterprises offering opportunities for “recreation” – rather than any policy judgment.
For zoning purposes, the Club site was designated C‑2 (“Central Business District”). This category identifies a variety of permitted commercial uses. It also conditionally authorizes what is known as “residential above retail” use – i.e., housing units built over ground‑floor commercial space. Among other conditions, the ordinance mandates that “there shall be not less than two thousand (2,000) square feet of lot area for each dwelling unit.”
Staff published its first draft of the revised General Plan in August 2020. Little noticed at the time, it made what appeared to be a dramatic change in the land‑use classification for the Harbor Bay Club, eliminating the “Commercial Recreation” category altogether and classifying the Club site as “Medium Density Residential,” which permitted multi‑family housing as of right. The next draft, published in March 2021, reiterated the change.
When Harbor Bay residents eventually became aware of what was being proposed, they didn’t like it. On May 13, the Community of Harbor Bay Isle Homeowners Associations passed a resolution “opposing the rezoning of the Commercial areas within the community” (which included the Harbor Bay Landing shopping center as well as the Harbor Bay Club), and urging the Planning Board and Council to “permanently remove upzoning Commercial Areas to housing. . . .”
More than 100 individual Harbor Bay residents then sent letters or emails to City officials taking umbrage at the idea of rezoning the Club site for residential use. Many of the commenters focused on the kind of “quality of life” issues – e.g., traffic – that the pro‑housing crowd so likes to chastise ordinary citizens for caring about. But other commenters also made an argument unique to Harbor Bay residents. They had bought their homes with the expectation that the Club – a “vital resource,” one called it – would continue to operate in perpetuity. And this, they said, was not just wishful thinking. Instead, it was a promise made by the developer in exchange for permission from the City to add more homes to the overall Harbor Bay Isle development. (Disclaimer: We haven’t done any independent legal analysis of this asserted promise.)
This deluge got staff’s attention. In his June 14 staff report, Mr. Thomas informed the Planning Board that classifying the Club site as “Medium Density Residential” had been a “mistake.” Instead, he said, it belonged, like all other properties zoned C‑2, in the “Community Mixed‑Use” category. He redid the General Plan accordingly. And he also revised the scope of the category itself. The March 2021 draft had stated that “multi‑family housing above ground‑floor commercial” should be allowed in a Community Mixed-Use area. The revised version eliminated the quoted language and instead stated that “Community Mixed‑Use areas [should] permit a wide range of community serving commercial uses and multifamily housing.”
To the Harbor Bay residents, these revisions didn’t improve the situation one bit. Accordingly, they prepared and posted a petition on change.org objecting to classifying the Club as either “Medium Density Residential” or “Community Mixed‑Use,” and proposing that it be classified as “Recreational” instead. More than 550 people signed the petition. In addition, 19 of them submitted written comments supporting a “Recreational” designation for the Club, and 14 spoke by Zoom at the September 13 Planning Board meeting.
At this point, Mr. Thomas was ready to throw in the towel. If the residents wanted the General Plan to retain the existing “Commercial Recreation” classification for the Club, fine, he told the Planning Board. That designation wouldn’t affect the zoning, which remained C‑2, and any zoning changes could be deferred until the Board reviewed the new Housing Element. Sounds good, the Board decided, and it told staff to let the existing classification stay the same in the General Plan.
There was still one more round to go. When the revised General Plan went before Council on November 30, Council member Trish Spencer took up the cudgel on behalf of those who wanted to restrict the Harbor Bay Club site to recreational use only. Ms. Spencer first clarified that the existing “Commercial Recreation” classification didn’t impose such a restriction. Reaching back to his law‑school days, City Attorney Yibin Shen recited the hoary legal maxim that “what isn’t forbidden is permitted” – and then pointed out that the existing designation did not prohibit residential use.
In response, Ms. Spencer suggested ways to effect the desired limitation by massaging the language and/or changing the placement of the “Commercial Recreation” paragraph. Only Councilman Tony Daysog was at all interested in exploring these options. Finally, Councilman John Knox White – who else? – decided to shut Ms. Spencer down. Council had “spent way too much time on this topic,” he declared, and he offered what he called a “substitute motion” directing staff to “continue following the process” of preparing a Housing Element “with the understanding they will come back with zoning recommendations.” Whatever this meant, Mr. Knox White got two of his colleagues – the usual suspects – to join him in voting for it, and the motion passed, 3‑to‑2.
In fact, early on during the drafting of the Housing Element, staff already had considered, and abandoned, the possibility of rezoning the Club site for residential use.
Having learned in December 2020 that the City of Alameda had been allotted 5,406 new housing units (later reduced to 5,353 units) as its share of the Regional Housing Needs Assessment for the 2023‑2031 planning cycle, Mr. Thomas and his crew scrambled to come up with residential “opportunity sites” sufficient to enable the City to meet the quota. One strategy the planners contemplated was to slap a handful of sites, including some currently zoned for non‑residential use, with an “overlay” that permitted multi‑family housing with a minimum density of 30 units per acre.
The City had employed this maneuver to hit its RHNA numbers in 2012 and 2014, and the Harbor Bay Club initially was a candidate this time around. In fact, the site inventory given to Council in February 2021 and to the Planning Board in March 2021 included the Club in its list of “proposed multi‑family zoning districts.” Rezoning the Club site to allow multi‑family housing would yield about 100 new units that could be counted against the RHNA quota, staff estimated.
Three months later, however, the Harbor Bay Club site had disappeared as a target for an overlay, and it wasn’t listed as a residential “opportunity site” – or, indeed, at all – in the site inventory presented to the Planning Board on June 14 and to Council on July 6.
What happened? Well, staff surely was aware of the resolution opposing rezoning passed by the Community of Harbor Bay Isle Homeowners Associations and the more than 100 letters and emails from residents taking the same position. Moreover, staff had received an email from Shahla Cowan, Ron Cowan’s widow, in which she stated that “I want to keep the Club in operation as long as the Club remains financially viable, but I also wish to preserve the option of redeveloping the site for new housing.” Staff may well have concluded that this was not a sufficiently unequivocal statement of intent to justify treating the Club as a potential residential site.
To us, it would appear that Mr. Thomas made a calculated judgment. The 100 additional housing units the Harbor Bay Club site might provide wouldn’t make much of a dent in the 5,353‑unit quota. There wasn’t any assurance that those units – or any units – actually would get built in the next eight years. But what was certain was that the Harbor Bay residents would fight against any Housing Element that permitted residential use on the site. And, of course, the politicians who had to approve the Housing Element undoubtedly knew that the voter turnout in zip code 94502 traditionally is high.
In any event, having disappeared from the June 2021 list, the Harbor Bay Club never reappeared. It wasn’t included in the site inventory in any of the multiple Housing Element drafts presented to the Planning Board after June 2021. Nor did staff propose any amendments to the zoning ordinance that would affect the C‑2 zoning for the Club. Indeed, the Harbor Bay Club isn’t even mentioned in the 188‑page Housing Element draft presented to Council and endorsed by a majority of its members on May 2.
All that is going to change if the application filed two weeks ago is approved: We don’t know for sure what rezoning the applicants have in mind, but it needs to allow them to build 400 apartments at the site. And that would mean not only permitting residential use but also increasing the permissible density above the 21‑units‑per acre limit established by Article XXVI of the Charter. (A project compliant with Measure A would yield only 210 units on a 10‑acre site.)
The names of the applicants are unfamiliar to us (and probably to most Alamedans). So just who are these guys?
Well, we can’t give you a complete picture, because neither of the contacts listed for the applicants responded to our email. But we can tell you this much:
- The property is now owned by a limited partnership called Harbor Bay Club Associates, whose general partner is HB Management, Inc. In her May 2021 email, Shahla Cowan identified herself as “the new Trustee of the Ron Cowan Trust, the principal owner of the Harbor Bay Club. . . .”
- C. Timothy Hoppen, the president of HB Management, Inc., told us that Harbor Bay Club Associates is “in contract” to sell the Club to CHDG Investments, LLC. (Presumably, the sale includes the underlying land as well.) Neither the Ron Cowan Trust nor any of Mr. Cowan’s heirs individually has “any ownership or connection to” CHDG Investments, LLC, Mr. Hoppen said.
- CHDG Investments, LLC, one of the applicants, is a limited liability company whose manager is identified on a Statement of Information filed with the California Secretary of State as Charles H. Grieve. Its “principal office” is located in San Rafael, and its business is described as “Investments.”
- The other applicant, Jackson Square Properties, appears to be a developer of multi‑family residential projects. “Founded in 2004,” its website states, “Jackson Square Properties has expanded over the years to own a diverse pool of multi‑family assets totaling over 70 communities with 19,000 units in 7 states and a value of over 4.5 billion dollars.”
- The application package contains a letter signed by a vice president of Jackson Square Properties (Chad Bungcayao) and two other people: Matt Wiley, a vice president of “Russell Square,” and Chuck Grieve, the CEO of “IconFit.” (We suspect that this “Chuck Grieve” is the same person as the “Charles H. Grieve” identified in the state filings as the manager of CHDG Investments, LLC.)
- Russell Square is a consulting firm that, according to its website, “specializes in all facets of the multifamily platform” and focuses on “land planning, site development and entitlements for new multifamily properties nationwide.” It recently worked with Jackson Square Properties on a 248‑unit apartment project called The Columbia at the Waterfront in Vancouver, Washington.
- IconFit appears to be a health‑club operator. “ICONFIT is an ultra high‑end fitness experience,” its website states, “that provides our members with an exclusive, personalized and customer service driven mind & body workout environment.”
Since no one responded to our email, we can’t say for sure what role each of these entities would play if the application goes through. If we had to guess, we’d say that Jackson Square Properties would be responsible for the residential aspect of any project and IconFit for the health‑club aspect. Russell Square will do what consultants do: consult. And where’s the money coming from? We don’t have a clue.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Amending the General Plan and the zoning ordinance are legislative acts that must be done by Council. If the reaction we got from Mr. Petersen is any indication, our Council members ought to start clearing their email in‑boxes for another volley of objections from their Harbor Bay constituents.
2040 General Plan: 2040 General Plan (November 2021)
2023-2031 Housing Element: 2022-04-19 Ex. 2 to staff report – Draft Housing Element
Harbor Bay Club application: Harbor Bay Mixed Use Development application
Save Alameda Recreation statement: Save Alameda Recreation Statement on HBC Development