Point development could start next year

Point development could start next year

Michele Ellson

City staffers are charting an ambitious course toward developing Alameda Point, kicking off a series of planning efforts Monday that they hope will prepare the Point for development as soon as 2014.

“We’ve got a big year planned,” Alameda Point Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Ott said.

Ott and the city’s top planner, Andrew Thomas, said they’re working to assemble a framework that will offer potential investors some specifics on what can be built in certain areas of the Point, and also to generate fresh cost estimates for the roads, water pipes and other infrastructure needed to support as much as 5.5 million square feet of commercial space, roughly 1,400 new homes, parks and other development that could occur there.

The city will also need to study the traffic, noise and other impacts development at the Point could create, and at Monday’s Planning Board meeting, they’re asking for public input on different impacts that should be looked at. Ott and Thomas said they’d also like to hear about alternatives to their existing development framework – a Community Reuse Plan generated in 1996 as the Naval base was shutting down.

“We’re hoping to get alternatives (the community) would like to see explored,” Thomas said.

The planning process is a departure from what the city has done in the past. City leaders have twice hired private developers who were tasked with generating specific plans for the Point, performing all the necessary studies and securing approvals to being construction. But the first developer, Alameda Point Community Partners, backed out as the economy slackened; the second, SunCal Companies, was effectively run out of town after failing to convince voters to back their development plan, which would have doubled the amount of housing called for in the Community Reuse Plan.

This time around, city staff will perform needed studies and secure major approvals ahead of time – perhaps by the end of this year – in the hope that developers will feel secure enough in their ability to complete projects to invest in the Point (no specific development plan is in the works right now). And they’re basing their work around the reuse plan.

“Everything we’re doing is to try to give a clear picture to a future investor,” Ott said. “The least attractive thing for a developer is not knowing what they’re getting into.”

The economy is improving, Ott and Thomas said, and they want the Point to be able to compete with other available development sites – including decommissioned bases on Treasure Island and in San Francisco’s Hunters Point – for investment and employers looking for a new home. The buildings and infrastructure at the Point have been deteriorating for over a decade, Thomas said, and the city wants to get them back into use while they can still be saved.

“Every year that goes by, that historic district goes one step closer to being demolished. That for me is why the city needs to get these documents in place so in the event somebody comes along with money to invest and start fixing some of those problems, we’ll to be ready,” Thomas said.

Members of the City Council said they want the environmental study – which could take up to a year to complete – to be flexible enough to accommodate future development proposals which may not fit neatly into the framework proposed by the reuse plan.

“I think the (study) should fully disclose the impacts of a range of alternatives at Alameda Point: from analyzing the ‘no action’ alternative to the Community Reuse Plan and one that is fiscal viable for the City,” City Councilwoman Lena Tam said in an e-mail response to a reporter’s questions about what should be included in the report.

Mayor Marie Gilmore said the city’s environmental impact report should be as flexible as possible.

“If conditions change or someone comes up with a great idea that's not currently part of the reuse plan (remember we are talking about a 20-30 year project) we'd like to be able to use some or all of the EIR as we work through another community process,” Gilmore wrote in response to the reporter’s e-mail. “EIRs are expensive, so we want this one to look at a range of possibilities so we don't have to prepare another one shortly after this one.”

Councilman Tony Daysog, who voted on the reuse plan when it came before the Alameda Reuse and Redevelopment Authority in 1996, said he’d like to see some focus on what people in Alameda and the region want and need, and not just on preparing the land for whatever a developer might be willing to build.

“What I’d like to do above all is start a conversation about Alameda Point beyond, how do we create a roadmap for a developer to meet our needs,” said Daysog, who said he’d like to see more formal citizen input into the planning process. “We should have a conversation about, what is it that society wants to see, in terms of our needs for the future.”

The reuse plan isn’t a development plan for Alameda Point like the ones previous private developers have proffered. It bills itself as a “roadmap” for future Point development that lays out general principles and lists how things like the city’s transportation, homeless accommodations and open space needs should be handled.

The plan envisioned an Alameda Point that was largely developed by 2020 with an environmentally friendly mix of homes, parks and commercial enterprises in new and reused historic structures that was transit-friendly, diverse and seamlessly integrated into the rest of the Island. And it listed specific principles for laying out neighborhoods, roads and parks; maintaining the Naval Air Station’s historic core; and ensuring that toxics the Navy left behind are properly cleaned up.

Developed with an eye toward replacing the jobs lost when the Naval base shut down in 1997, the plan also envisioned more than 17,000 new jobs at Alameda Point, some of which would be filled by the 6,603 new residents who would live in 2,737 new single family homes and townhouses.

But a lot has happened in the 17 years since the reuse plan was completed. One anticipated Point tenant, Pan Pacific University, never made it here, while a proposed golf course was studied and cast aside. The Veterans Administration is on track to set up a clinic and columbarium at the Point; Ott said negotiations between the Navy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over a proposed wildlife refuge on the property broke down, so the VA will be managing efforts to protect endangered and threatened birds there instead.

The Bayport housing project was built on Navy property that abuts Alameda Point, and a Target-anchored shopping center that’s part of Alameda Landing, for which 275 homes are proposed, is under construction. And many of the Point buildings that once housed the Navy’s operations are now leased by private businesses.

Other major changes include city leaders’ decision to allow apartments and other multifamily housing to be built in Alameda for the first time in nearly 40 years and the loss of redevelopment funding – future property taxes cities were once able to leverage to pay for everything from roads and sewer lines to housing for lower income residents.

While the planning efforts may lay out some specifics about what can be built where, who will pay for infrastructure will have to be determined as developers come along. And Tam said the community will need to be aware of the cost of the things they’d like to see at the Point.

“The economic tools, like redevelopment funding, are no longer available for cities, and there will be more reliance on private funding,” Tam said.

This year, the city cinched a long-sought deal with the state that will allow Alameda to develop some interior portions of the Point in exchange for state ownership of shoreline property that will come with restrictions on what can be developed there. But the city still doesn’t own Alameda Point. City Manager John Russo had said he hoped to gain control of the bulk of the Point by December, and then February; Ott said the city now hopes to own the Point “sometime in this half of the year.”

“We think this is how the community wants to see Alameda Point move forward. We’re really trying to move forward on plans and approvals necessary to facilitate approval of the next level of development,” she said.

The Planning Board meeting starts at 7 p.m. Monday in council chambers at City Hall, 2263 Santa Clara Avenue. The agenda and meeting materials are available on the city’s website. The meeting will also be broadcast on the city’s website and on Comcast cable channel 15.

Related: Planning Board to discuss Alameda Point jobs plan