Council to consider development, design rules for northern Park Street

Council to consider development, design rules for northern Park Street

Michele Ellson

The northern stretch of Park Street is undergoing a transition from its former life as Alameda's Auto Row. Photo by Michele Ellson.

City leaders on Tuesday will consider a plan to replace the vestiges of Alameda’s former Auto Row with a pedestrian- and transit-friendly array of shops and housing, in the hope of restoring some of the sales tax revenue the city lost when the car dealers traded in Park Street for freeway frontage.

The City Council is set to discuss development and design rules covering northern Park Street and its environs that are aimed at boosting investment. If approved, the new rules will cover Park Street north of Lincoln Avenue, along with the Wedge residential neighborhood bounded by Park Street and Tilden Way and a corridor bordered by Park and Oak streets.

The area is being broken down into five districts, including a “gateway” district lining Park Street where a mix of retail, commercial workplace and residential uses will be allowed. Residential districts would remain in place, with mixed-use areas set between them as a buffer separating residents from businesses. Blanding Avenue would be zoned for maritime uses along with a workplace district that could hold commercial, light industrial and manufacturing uses.

The plans have been six years in the making and are being approved just as the nation’s economy seems to be creeping out of a prolonged slump.

The northern stretch of Park Street was once lined with auto dealerships that served as the Island’s primary sales tax generator. In the first quarter of 2003, businesses in that area brought in $323,496 in sales taxes, or nearly a quarter of the city’s total haul for that quarter; the city’s most recent sales tax report showed the amount had declined to $151,123 or 9 percent of the city’s total take.

Over the course of the last decade or so, the dealerships pulled up stakes and moved their operations next to freeways, which Alameda lacks. Those moves helped prompt planning efforts aimed at drawing investment back to the area.

The area has seen a number of changes over the years the new rules were being drafted. The Alameda Marketplace now occupies the site of one former dealership and a new retail space, Park Vista Square, sprung up in the ashes of another. A third retail site is being developed on Park Street at Tilden Way.

Auto-oriented businesses remain on the northern portion of Park, though; more than a dozen line Park Street, many of them north of Lincoln Avenue.

Dozens of residents of the Wedge neighborhood signed a petition asking the city to require some open space in the northern Park Street area and to offer a list of places where it could be created. A group called Project Leaf has been working to acquire the old Island High School site on Eagle Avenue to create an urban farm.

“It is a primary concern of the neighborhood that there is a disregard for a historic neighborhood's access to open space,” the petition says.

A preservationists’ group said that while they are pleased with the new development and design rules, they would like to see height limits for new buildings reduced from 60 feet and five stories to 40 feet and three stories. In a letter, members of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society, who noted the northern Park Street district has some of the oldest buildings on the Island, said the 60-foot limit was added at the last minute and as such, “does not respect the public process and extensive previous work on this project.”

In a report to the council, City Manager John Russo wrote that the city can’t afford to buy the Island High property; he suggested open space advocates seek out funds to buy defunct railroad property on Tilden Way. And he wrote that the height limit for buildings in the rest of the Park Street commercial district is 60 feet.

In addition to the development and design rules, the council is to consider agreements that will help them implement a plan to protect the California least tern colony at Alameda Point. The agreements to manage potential tern predators and to minimize lighting and other possible nuisances for the colony will cost the city an estimated $24,500.

The council will also consider appointing Dania Alvarez-Morroni and Stanley Tang to the city’s Planning Board and Michael Robles-Wong to the Social Service Human Relations Board.

The council meeting begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 2263 Santa Clara Avenue. The council agenda and materials are here: http://www.cityofalamedaca.gov/City-Hall/Calendar-of-Events?id=2108&a=20....

Comments

Submitted by AlamedaMama on Fri, Mar 29, 2013

My question for this new district is "What happened to the two blocks of Lincoln left out?". The 2400 and 2500 block of Lincoln Avenue were not included in the first phase of public improvement of Park Street and have been excluded from the Northern Loop. There is a restaurant (Speisekammer) and oil change, Volvo repair shop, and store fronts in the 2400 block. The 2500 block gets as much foot traffic as the 2500 block of Santa Clara yet no public improvement? The improvement done on Park street came as close as Web Street and Everett and then stops, but the2400 and 2500 blocks will be covered all the way up to the Estuary in the new phase. What gives?

Submitted by AlamedaMama on Fri, Mar 29, 2013

Also if you want the new phase to be pedestrian friendly then the planning department needs to design the Lincoln/Park St intersection to promote foot traffic. It isn't friendly for pedestrians at all right now. What's going to entice walkers to risk life and limb it's certainly not a CVS!

Submitted by labryon on Sat, Mar 30, 2013

Thank you for this article Michele.

One major issue with the City's plan, that no story has yet covered with any depth, is the the confiscation of currently held public property, by Russo/City Staff, in order to build 17-23 housing units that would assist in satisfying the city-wide Housing Element adopted by the council last July.

Despite being a historic piece of AUSD property (Everett School built in 1891 and served as the area's elementary school until Edison was built in 1946), the former Old Island High was designated for density housing yet without it being declared as "surplus" by the Board of Ed. Ditto to the preservationist group's claim in article above that the City's plan "does not respect the public process."

Because included in Russo's/Staff's city plan to fulfill the State's new density housing requirement was a rezoning of the AUSD property which upgraded it from Municipal status to Residential (the same action that provoked EBRPD's lawsuit for the McKay Avenue property). That action tripled the land's value and put AUSD in position to sell the land, which AUSD's CBO Shemwell later announced "would sell for about $1M and could help offset the purchase price of a new District office."

Sixty three residents within North Park Street's "Wedge" neighborhood presented a petition to the Planning Board during the EIR's public comment period. While the neighbors appreciated the City's overall plan, they asked for the Old Island High not be developed for housing and instead act as the North Park Street Planning Area's "green space." Their request addressed the EIR's lack of municipal mitigation, for schools and parks, in order to balance the impending increase in the area's residential density. The City's existing General Code also states municipal requirements for residential access to public parks must be within a distance of 3/8 mile.

Alameda's housing advocates know there are other available sites within the City's inventory that could satisfy the amount of housing units currently designated for the Old Island High site. However, the City and AUSD legal advisors have a "disposition strategy" in place for the site and are using it as a land swap for 12 acres of land AUSD will receive after Alameda Point's land use plan is approved by the CIty (audio from March 19, 2012 meeting of the Subcommittee of the City Council and Board of Education is available on City Council's website). So it is a win-win according to City and AUSD staffers but what about the public's win? Will our elected leaders listen to the public's wants?

Currently a coalition of AUSD teachers and community members are advocating for AUSD to maintain ownership of the site and are seeking support for the installation of an environmental educational facility for AUSD students. Based on successful models for school gardens in Alameda County, and funded by grants targeting childhood obesity while providing laboratory/hands-on access to science-based curriculum, a sustainable/innovative program could be installed by organized volunteers for the benefit of Alameda's ongoing student population and educational needs. Some ideas have included an field station maintained by organized volunteers and/or high school students in order to grow fresh daily produce for AUSD lunch programs.

The City Council will listen to their voters if they hear from them at next Tuesday night's meeting. Many of our city's teachers have sent letters asking the Council to preserve and uphold the value of public education facilities while they continue to work in accommodating the State's mandatory increase for our city's residential population. AUSD's teaching staff respect the City's improvement efforts to the North Park Street Planning Area and appreciate the creation of new housing options for individuals and families, but not without regard to maintaining a public educational facility.

Please help the effort to preserve public property for our city's educational and environmental needs by submitting your comments to council members, in writing or in person, by April 2nd 2013. Thank you.

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