Council to consider Belt Line park plan

Council to consider Belt Line park plan

Michele Ellson

The City Council will consider a plan Tuesday to transform the former Alameda Belt Line rail yard into a passive park with picnic areas, walking and bike trails, community gardens and playgrounds.

City staffers are seeking the council’s approval to develop a conceptual plan for the new park on the 22-acre rail yard, which is bounded by Sherman Street, Atlantic Avenue and Constitution Way. The plan will be developed by local landscape architects who volunteered their assistance.

Parks leaders and other volunteers will see out grants and private donations to fund the new Jean Sweeney Open Space Park, which will be one of Alameda’s biggest when it is completed. A timeline for constructing the park has not been set, though parks leaders expect park construction to be a long-term, multi-phase process.

Nearly three-quarters of the more than 650 people who took a city survey that listed ideas for the new park said they’d like it to include walking and biking trails, while more than half said it should include natural open space habitat for wildlife and picnic areas, 47 percent wanted a community garden and 44 percent wanted playgrounds.

A “strong contingency” advocated for an aquatic center on the property while others expressed an interest in a running track that could be used for competitions. Other ideas that had some traction included a railroad museum and historical signage, an orchard, an amphitheater and an off-leash dog park.

The Recreation and Park Commission recommended in March that the plan include trails, open space, picnic areas, a community garden, playgrounds and open lawn space, and those are the items the council will be considering on Tuesday.

For a community garden, the city could collaborate with nonprofit and community groups include the Alameda Point Collaborative – which got some money to study the feasibility of putting a garden behind the Alameda Food Bank, which is next to the property – along with Project Leaf, Alameda Backyard Growers and Alameda Backyard Chickens group. Several community members stepped forward during the community meeting process to volunteer marketing, grant writing, and cleanup help, according to a staff report for Tuesday’s meeting.

Sweeney, the park’s namesake, helped the city purchase the land from Union Pacific for less than $1 million by discovering an old contract that required the rail line to sell it back to the city for 1924 prices, plus improvements. The city bought the land, which includes the mile-long, 300-foot-wide rail yard and the narrower rail line property, in 2010.

Workshops held in 2011 as part of the development of a citywide parks assessment offered a range of possible uses for the former rail yard, from a community garden to soccer fields and basketball courts, a dog park, a fitness course, and a bike and walking trail. But the suggestions drew protest from some parks advocates, including the late Sweeney’s husband, who said that both Sweeney and voters who signed off on a park use for the land had envisioned it as open space.

Alameda has 459 acres of park space spread across 19 existing parks.

Related: Opinions sought for Belt Line park

Residents offer their thoughts on future Alameda Belt Line park