Friday, October 9, 2015

Harbor Bay residents declare victory after Alameda council rebuffs developer's plan

ALAMEDA CITY COUNCIL | A long-simmering dispute among Bay Farm residents in Alameda and the developer of the Harbor Bay Isle development was made clearer Wednesday when the City Council reaffirmed its existing general plan; boosting the argument of residents and blocking for now any new homes on the waterfront property now featuring an aging health club.

Since 2013, Harbor Bay Isle Associate has sought to replace the waterfront health club located near the San Leandro/Alameda bridge with up to 80 high-end homes. However, the proposal was withdrawn in March 2014. The developer is also seeking to rebuild and modernize the health club on North Loop Road.

A proposed new address for the health club will indeed occur despite the council decision, said Marshall Wallace, an attorney for Harbor Bay Isle Associates. But the health club portion of the proposal was not on the agenda at Wednesday night’s special meeting. Instead, the city went to the somewhat unusual path of making an advisory decision on the current health club property of Packet Landing Road, despite the absence of any official proposal to change its general plan. The current health club is zoned for commercial use, not for residential homes.

There has been some fear by the city that public officials stating an opinion of the Harbor Bay Isle plan before it is received could pose questions of bias down the line. “I would encourage us to be cautious in what we say,” said Alameda Mayor Trish Spencer.

But, the rift between Harbor Bay residents and developer Ron Cowan continues to grow. Some residents have taken to placing handwritten stickers around the city saying “Stop Ron Cowan” and a war of letters to the editor and blog postings has exacerbated the tenor of discourse on the island. “I wince when I hear a community at war,” said Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft. “We’re Alameda.” Nevertheless, the large turnout featured supporters of the developer’s plan clad in blue t-shirts, while opponents donned red with buttons that read, “No rezone.”

The council agreed with the red shirts Wednesday night. “I don’t find at this point in time any criteria to change general plan,” said Ashcraft. The sentiment was reiterated by the rest of the council. Spencer, though, offered no opinion on the plan and voted to abstain. Councilmember Jim Oddie initially said he leaned toward abstaining, but later voted to reaffirm the current zoning. “Our residents need affordable housing,” said Oddie. “That's what we should focus our efforts.”

He then urged Harbor Bay residents against celebrating the council’s decision. “I want to be careful not to raise expectations,” said Oddie. It’s within the developer’s right to simply shutter the health club and move it across Bay Farm, he added. And doing so could also adversely affect home prices in the neighborhood.

“It was a good night but it’s a very fluid situation and things could change tomorrow,” said Tim Coffey, a Harbor Bay homeowner who led the push back against rezoning the health club for additional housing.

“I think the city council said tonight is if you don’t have an application out why should we even consider changing the zoning for you?” said Coffey. Earlier in the meeting Wednesday, Harbor Bay Isle Associate’s attorney raised the possibility of a constructing a convention center at the site.

Coffey disregarded the potential for the developer to seek building anything other than homes at the current health club site. “I would be more worried if [Harbor Bay Isle Associates] had a history of building anything other than homes. They build homes. That’s what they do. That’s why this isn’t about a club.”


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