Opinions sought on Belt Line park
Opinions sought on Belt Line park
City leaders are asking the community to say what they want in a future Belt Line park. Photos by Michele Ellson; click for slideshow.
Parks advocates scored a major coup in 2009 when a court ruled that Union Pacific had to sell the former Alameda Belt Line property back to the city at 1924 prices. Now city leaders are asking the public what kind of park they should build on a major portion of that property.
The city is hosting community design input meetings for a new Belt Line park from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, February 9 at the Albert H. DeWitt Officers Club and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, February 13 at City Hall (the second meeting will be televised on Comcast cable channel 15). They’ll take the feedback from those meetings – and an online survey – to city leaders in the spring.
Recreation and Park Director Amy Wooldridge said discussions about what to do with the 22-acre former rail yard of the Belt Line property where the park would be built are at the conceptual stage. Timelines for building a park haven’t yet been set – and funding to build it hasn’t yet been identified.
Wooldridge said interest in the mile-long, 300-foot-wide property – which will be the second-biggest park in Alameda after it’s completed, behind Shoreline Park, which rims Bay Farm Island – has been high. The city has already talked to groups that include Bike Alameda and Project Leaf, and more than 250 people have filled out the city’s online survey seeking input on the proposed park.
“People are coming out of the woods,” Wooldridge said this week as she led a reporter on a tour of the property, which runs from Sherman Street to Independence Way.
The city won the right to purchase the Belt Line property after a local parks activist, Jean Sweeney, discovered the 1924 agreement the city made to sell its railroad to the Alameda Belt Line – an agreement that included a buyback provision. Union Pacific had stopped operating a rail line on the property in 1998, and had planned to sell the land to a developer for $18 million.
The city closed escrow on the land in 2010 for $966,207 – its original $30,000 purchase price plus improvements and extensions. In addition to the former rail yard, the purchase also included the 66-foot-wide former Belt Line Spur along Ralph Appezzato Memorial Parkway; all told, the Belt Line property is about 40 acres.
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.
Wooldridge said the property is expected to include a Cross Alameda Trail for cyclists and pedestrians; that could be the first thing built in what she said would be a multi-phase project. A 2009 cost estimate put a $1.4 million price tag on a portion of the trail.
The Alameda Point Collaborative has gotten some federal money to study whether it can plant a community garden on a portion of the property that sits behind the Alameda Food Bank. The city must also reserve a portion of it for light rail or another future transportation need, and will need to work out access for neighbors through a swath that Union Pacific still owns.
The property is currently fenced, and marked with “No Trespassing” signs, though Wooldridge said some neighbors use the pampas grass, fennel and blackberry-dotted field to walk their dogs, while for others, it’s a bird watching spot. A few remaining vestiges of the rail yard remain – including a concrete pad and some old wooden railroad ties; Wooldridge said there are some survey markers as well, though she hasn’t spotted those yet.
An initial environmental study showed that there are some contaminants in the ground, including diesel fuel; soil sampling and cleanup are slated to follow.
Once the community determines what it would like built on the Belt Yard property, the city will need to find for money to pay for it. Wooldridge said the city may be able to win government grants for passive uses and bicycle and pedestrian trails; for fields, they might have to seek out private funding.
City leaders will also need to figure out how to pay to maintain whatever is built.
“We’re starting a long journey,” Wooldridge said.
The city’s Belt Line survey is available online. The Albert H. DeWitt Officers Club is at 641 West Redline Drive on Alameda Point; City Hall is at 2263 Santa Clara Avenue.