ALAMEDA -- After hearing more than 20 people appeal for lower building height and a commitment to green space in the plans for north Park Street redevelopment, the City Council moved forward Tuesday to keep the plan intact.
Public speakers repeatedly cited their concerns with a 60-foot building height allowance, saying it would overwhelm the street and not flow with the smaller buildings farther south. They also lamented that there is nothing written into the plan for a park or green space and asked the council to direct the city to seriously consider the former Island High School property on Eagle Avenue. That property is owned by the school district.
The council voted 4-1, with Stewart Chen dissenting, to adopt the project's resolution approving the city's design manual amendments for the project area, which is bound by the estuary, Tilden Way, Lincoln Avenue and Oak Street. The council also approved a resolution to certify the project's environmental report.
The planning process has been under way for about six years, when the tax revenue-generating auto dealerships on Park Street began to disappear. The plan is to create a mixed-use area with retail on the street level and housing in the upper stories. The city forecasts that about 200 new households and 470 people would move into the area.
While the building height is set at 60 feet, parcel size and building design will influence the actual height, said City Planner Andrew Thomas. He guessed that only a few buildings would end up at the full height limit.
But the public speakers who opposed the plan insisted the height limit should be 40 feet. Speaker Jon Spangler went further with his comments, saying the plan needed "more transportation improvements, traffic planning and better design review" in addition a height reduction. He and another speaker commented on the recent revamp of the former Islander Motel on Central Avenue near Park Street (now an affordable housing complex called The Park Alameda). He said it isn't up to quality architectural standards. He said if the complex is an example of what is coming for the redevelopment project, then the plan needs a lot of work.
Speaker Gretchen Lipow noted there is already a fairly new building on Park Street sitting vacant, pointing out the possibility that the market may not be ready for more new buildings.
Architect David Baker said he has seen other cities suffer after allowing out-of-scale buildings to set up shop. He said the University Avenue corridor in Berkeley has a "monumental scale" that destroyed the area's previous aesthetics.
Mayor Marie Gilmore said with "businesses being sought after by every city under the sun, anything that makes us more competitive and for any business to even consider us" is needed.
"Having sat on the Planning Board, I know design review is not a picnic in this town," she said. "I am not afraid of the 60-foot limit because I don't think we'll get a 60-foot, big-box building."
Regarding the comments about the lack of green space and the request to obtain the Island High School site, Vice Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft reminded the speakers the project area does have one other possible open space site near Tilden Way. It is a 1.4-acre spot owned by Union Pacific. But she also repeated the planning chief's comment about parks costing money to create and maintain, let alone the cost of buying property.
Speakers said parking needs would increase from the redevelopment and that the city needs to plan well for them by requiring businesses to provide parking spaces.
Councilmember Chen said the plan needs some "language tweaking" before he is comfortable with the height and aesthetics safeguards. A second reading of the municipal code amendments for the project is set for adoption on April 16, and the new code would become effective May 16.