The formal process to evaluate Ron Cowan's latest land swap proposal is now under way. It started with a scoping session at the most recent Planning Board meeting.
Cowan, through his Harbor Bay Isle Associates (HBIA), proposes to extract the Harbor Bay Club from the community he originally intended it to serve and replace it with 80 homes with 270 parking spaces. If not homes, Cowan has suggested a hotel/conference center.
If approved, this development could do unnecessary and potentially irreparable damage to the Bay Farm community and the Harbor Bay Isle residential development. It might also create a precedent that any planned unit development within city limits can be changed on a whim.
The problems with Cowan's latest swap are extensive. Essentially, the proposal calls for increasing the number of homes on Packet Landing Road, which is a cul-de-sac, to nearly 300, a 40 percent increase. At the opening of this single egress is Amelia Earhart Elementary School, the largest elementary school in Alameda, with more than 600 students.
Every morning during the school year, a certain percentage of cars associated with 300 homes will exit Packet Landing, while a certain percentage of cars associated with 600 students will enter the cul-de-sac. Typically, the number of cars leaving the club property between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. is less than 35.
Making matters worse -- and more dangerous to students -- is Packet Landing traffic exits onto Robert Davey Jr. Drive, a major road for the Harbor Bay Isle residential development. That street then connects with Island Drive, the primary vehicular artery for all of Bay Farm.
Gridlock worse than current morning peak traffic hours in Bay Farm is inevitable. In response to this threat, a grass roots collection of club members, parents and homeowners, created Harbor Bay Neighbors. Our more than 800 supporters include the same people that just last year opposed Cowan's previous land swap for the Mif Albright Golf Course and then supported the successful Save Our Parks amendment to the city charter.
None of us can believe we are going through this again. Yet Cowan and HBIA are trying to force another poorly conceived development on Alameda. And again they are using weak arguments based on half-truths and intimidation.
Contrary to HBIA's insistence, the company has no legal right to build more homes in Alameda. Section 1.5 of the April 1989 Development Agreement cites approvals "to build up to a total of 3,200 units." HBIA even acknowledged the agreement stated 3,200 units are what "could be developed" in its building application filed with the city on Aug. 20.
HBIA also insists it is free to do with the Harbor Bay Club as it pleases. That is not necessarily true, either. The city approved the club as a community-owned entity for use by the residents of the Harbor Bay Isle residential development. Only after HBIA claimed economic hardship, did the city allow for HBIA to have private ownership of the club.
However, that change came with certain conditions -- such as limiting potential revenue and dictating priority of use at the club -- that favored residents over the operators. The Planning Board has never wavered that the purpose of the club is for the residents.
Cowan appears ready to burn every bridge just to build some homes. In late September, he sent an email to Mayor Marie Gilmore and City Manager John Russo warning of "hell to pay" if they did not support his proposal. The email was first reported by local blogger Lauren Do and subsequently authenticated by journalist Michele Ellson. No developer should ever threaten our local officials -- especially one that doesn't even live in Alameda.
Harbor Bay Neighbors wants this to be over. We want to get back to our families and careers. We have an investor group from the community to discuss buying the Harbor Bay Club. So far, Cowan refuses to discuss it. We also engaged City Hall to find land elsewhere in Alameda that HBIA could develop. City Hall became uninterested in exploring options after Cowan sent his threatening email.
This nonsense has to end for the good of Alameda. Harbor Bay Neighbors will see the process through if we must, and if it happens in an election year, so be it.
Tim Coffey, a resident of Bay Farm, is a co-leader at Harbor Bay Neighbors. For more information or to join us please see our website at harborbayneighbors.wordpress.com.