On Point: Council may cap housing on North Housing parcel

On Point: Council may cap housing on North Housing parcel

Michele Ellson

Updated at 1:15 p.m. Friday, May 1

CORRECTION: The Alamedan misstated key elements of a proposal to restrict housing development on the Navy's North Housing property. Corrections have been inserted in BOLD. The Alamedan regrets the errors.

A few months ago we polled City Council members in an effort to determine whether a proposal to redevelop 68 acres of Alameda Point into homes, retail outlets, parks and a transit hub had enough council votes to pass. While most of the council appeared open to the proposal, one member, Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese, said he’d only sign off under one condition: That the city take 800 homes off the table elsewhere to offset the traffic and other impacts of the ones proposed to be built at the Point.

During the final moments of this past Monday’s Planning Board meeting, City Planner Andrew Thomas announced a plan that would do just that. He’s proposing the city cap the number of homes that can be built on 37 acres of the North Housing parcel – Navy land that sits just north of the housing now occupied by members of the Coast Guard.

Thomas said Friday that city staff is proposing a change to the zoning for the property so that development there is capped at the 435 homes permitted in the Community Reuse Plan for Alameda Point. The change would address concerns that the current zoning for the property would allow a developer to construct more than 1,400 homes on the North Housing property.

The cap would still include 90 homes Alameda's Housing Authority plans to construct for homeless people and another 30 homes to be constructed by Habitat for Humanity.

The Planning Board is expected to offer its thoughts on the proposed change on May 11, the same night it considers plans for Site A. The zoning change reducing housing for the North Housing parcel and approvals for the Site A development is expected to go to the council on June 16.

“We’re going to bring (them) forward at the same time,” Thomas told the Planning Board on Monday.

In January, Matarrese asked city staffers to clarify the city’s density bonus ordinance, which allows developers to request permission to build up to 35 percent more homes than they’d normally be allowed to build on a site if they agree to build more affordable housing than required – and also, a moratorium on applications for the bonuses while the changes were being made. The request came after the prior council approved more homes for the Del Monte warehouse site than city planners said it could realistically hold.

Matarrese has said he wants to make sure housing sites aren’t crammed with more homes than they can realistically hold, and also that the city doesn’t build more homes over the next eight years than the city’s general plan requires.

He didn't comment specifically on whether the change would address his concerns.

"I’m prepping for our next update because there are other things that must be addressed such as getting more details and accelerating the commercial (non-retail) component of the mixed use and an approved (project labor agreement)," Matarrese wrote in response to a reporter's e-mail.

Proponents of the Site A development project need to win assent from four members of the council to move the project forward; both Matarrese and Mayor Trish Spencer ran on promises to slow growth.

The housing element of the city's general plan - basically, its housing development blueprint - contains a list of "housing opportunity" sites where homes could be built that includes the North Housing sites at Singleton Avenue and Main Street, both of which are zoned to allow multifamily housing; state law requires cities to show they have land available to accommodate development that meets their housing needs. Alameda's list includes enough sites to accommodate 2,245 new homes, though the number of homes developers can vary - and have varied - from the number the city's planners listed in the general plan.

Thomas said Friday that even with the reduction, the plan will offer show that the city has enough land available to accommodate the housing state officials want the city to plan for.

The federal government declared the North Housing parcels surplus in 2007, prompting the city to update its base reuse plan to include it.


Submitted by 2wheelsmith (not verified) on Fri, May 1, 2015

The housing element commits the City to provide sites for 800 affordable housing units in the North Housing area at Singleton Avenue and Main Street. Only 200 units of affordable housing units are planned for Site A. Where does the City plan to move the other 600 units to?

Richard Bangert's picture
Submitted by Richard Bangert on Fri, May 1, 2015

I'm not seeing the Planning Board agenda, which would include a staff report, posted for the May 11 meeting. Based only on the thumbnail comments by Andrew Thomas, I would say that removing all 37 acres as a housing site would be a) difficult, and b) unfortunate.

A very long process was completed a few years ago for the eventual transfer of 13 acres of the North Housing site to the Housing Authority for a jointly-run housing project with the Alameda Point Collaborative. Two acres are supposed to go to Habitat for Humanity. How the Navy would dispose of the remaining 19 acres was undetermined at that point. They originally were going to auction the property, but have since left the disposal process vague.

I think it would be an understatement to say the Navy will be upset if the Housing Authority deal is trashed. I would think the Housing Authority staff and the Alameda Point Collaborative would be none too happy either.

I wrote a post in 2013 covering this area https://alamedapointenvironmentalreport.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/parklan... . What has changed in the interim is that the Estuary Park parcel has been transferred, and the housing overlay number was ramped up. Related to this is the future of the parcels right across the street - between North Housing and Coast Guard Housing - the sites of the Child Development Center and the old high school. As reported on The Alamedan, the school board has changed its mind about those properties, and is submitting a request to the Navy for conveyance of those parcels in order to put them back in service. What happens across the street if the Navy auctions North Housing property would be of interest to the school board.

(Note that the math for the acreage does not always square up right to the acre from story to story. I believe it is because the street is included in the total acreage number.)

Submitted by JKW (not verified) on Fri, May 1, 2015

Hey Michele,
Would it be possible for you to clarify in your article what “realistic capacity” means? Unfortunately, writers in our city papers have misrepresented this state-planning term of art to mean “the amount of housing that a specific site can realistically accommodate.” When in fact, it’s a calculation based on a city’s past performance in building housing and has nothing to do with what a site can reasonably accommodate. I think that in citing the language from the housing element, which is required by state law for the city to use, you may inadvertently be continuing this misunderstanding.

While many people can have many different opinions about how much housing is appropriate for a place, nowhere does the city, the county or the state calculate an amount that is the realistic maximum. Planning efforts are more nuanced and complex than that.


Submitted by Michele Ellson on Fri, May 1, 2015

Hi JKW: Thanks for your comment. I will follow up with the city planner when City Hall reopens next week.

And Richard: Thanks for the additional info. (I actually wrote this for Friday anticipating the staff report would be up Thursday night.) I am eager to learn more about this too and will be following up.

Submitted by Julie Conner (not verified) on Sun, May 3, 2015

Hi Michelle, When you speak with City Hall, can you help us understand how many units are slated for the entire area, rather than just the North Housing Portion? I had understood that the Community Reuse Plan was already limited to 1,400, so it was a surprise to learn from this piece that a change in the zoning was also necessary. It's tough as a lay person to get the big picture and I so appreciate the Alamedan's role in keeping us informed.

If I understand Richard's blog posting (referenced above), in addition to understanding the entire picture for the number of units under consideration for Alameda Point as a whole (not just the North Housing site), he's raising the issue of how the City Planner's commitment to limit additional development to an additional 435 units will interact with the commitment to provide affordable options. In trying to get my hands around this, I'm not sure if I am correct in understanding that the existing tenants of the former Navy base housing will be displaced by the North Housing Plan or if those rental units are considered to be a separate site.

Again, thanks for educating us!

Submitted by Dorie Guess Beh... (not verified) on Mon, May 4, 2015

Was the reference to homeless housing, housing for the formerly homeless?? There are formerly homeless people now resident in various Alameda Point Collaborative housing units (and not now homeless). If it's new housing for currently homeless persons, that's important to know, too.