ALBANY -- Plans for the long-awaited Pierce Street Park took a step forward April 1 when the City Council approved a first phase of the project by a 4-0 vote. Mayor Peggy Thomsen, who lives near the proposed park and has been a key figure in pushing the project, recused herself.

The 4.5-acre site, a former access ramp to Interstate 80, is bounded by Pierce Street, Cleveland and Washington avenues and the freeway.

The council approved initial work on the center portion of the property, including grading work for creating a pathway in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the creation of a playground.

Consultant John Hykes presented the council with plans for three up to five phases. The last two phases -- which would include the north and south wings of the park -- were dropped from his final plans due to costs. According to his report, the cost for the first three phases would be $2.35 million.

City staff has identified $1 million in funds for the opening phase(s), according to a report prepared by City Manager Beth Pollard.

As approved, the initial phase differed from what was proposed by the consultant. His report suggested starting with a 1,200-square-foot plaza on the west edge of the park along Pierce Street, extending the sidewalk, creating a water feature and irrigating the property. The consultant's Phase 1A would have widened Pierce Street and created a crosswalk and ADA access.


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However, after asking Hykes if phases could be changed around, the council decided to swap some the items after an extensive public comment period.

Members of the public were generally in support of the plans, although some questioned specifics such as parking or whether the park should be a "passive use" park, meaning it would left to return to a more natural state or whether activities such as organized sports should be allowed.

Most encouraged the council to get the project moving. The former freeway offramp, removed in a reconfiguration of the I-80/I-580 interchange, had been owned by Caltrans and negotiations with the state agency ended up taking many years before the city finally acquired the land in 2011.

Albany held several community meetings about the project, as well as a walk-through of the site last year. Neighbors suggested a passive use park for the land, with a fountain and plaza as well as a playground with structures for both toddlers and children. A connection to the San Francisco Bay Trail and the Ohlone Parkway is also in the plans.

In response to concerns raised by some residents, city staff said the input process is not limited to neighbors of the project site.

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