Alameda Landing – Urbanizing a Former Naval Air Station in San Francisco Bay
August 24, 2018
Alameda Point is the 1,560-acre (630 ha) western quarter of the six-mile-long (9.7 km) Alameda Island, which juts into San Francisco Bay immediately south of Oakland. For six decades, from 1938 to 1997, it was a naval air station (NAS) until the U.S. Navy, as the result of the federal base closure process, gave it to the city of Alameda, which occupied the other three-quarters of the island. Through two decades, the form, face, and future of the former NAS have been emerging.
In 1996, the Navy and city of Alameda completed a three-year planning process for redevelopment of the site, which culminated in the adoption of the NAS Alameda Community Reuse Plan. In 1999, the city received from the Navy the first 218 acres (88 ha). Since 2000, the city has undertaken many plans dealing with complex issues such as groundwater and soil contamination, geotechnical hazards such as earthquakes and tsunamis, flooding hazards, existing commercial and residential leases, and historic district resources.
Catellus Development Corporation, the Oakland-based independent company formed as owner of the real estate holdings of the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific railroads and later a subsidiary of ProLogis from 2005 to 2011, sought entitlements to transform the 218 acres (88 ha) for a variety of office, retail, and residential uses on land that had been the Fleet Industrial Supply Center. Catellus and the city executed a development agreement in June 2000 giving the company the rights to develop a residential community called Bayport and a 1.3 million-square-foot (121,000 sq m) business park. The company undertook a detailed environmental impact report, which established a mitigation program that covered all the land to which it became entitled—a program by which the company is still bound. Catellus developed the 72-acre (29 ha) Bayport community of 632 detached houses around the Ruby Bridges Elementary School and an 11-acre (4.5 ha) park.
Subject to the terms of its development agreement, Catellus assigned the residential entitlement to Warmington Homes, the Costa Mesa, California–based homebuilder that built the project. In its development agreements, the city sought to reflect the small-town character and the grid pattern of Alameda. Bayport’s blocks were typically about 200 by 500 feet (61 by 152 m) and were consistent with the varied grid pattern of the rest of the island. Catellus/Warmington achieved gross density of about nine units per acre, excluding the school and park, using lots measuring about 45 by 80 feet (14 by 24 m), comparable to lot sizes in the older community.
For the 146 acres (59 ha) northeast of Bayport, Catellus had hoped to create a research and development business park, but market interest was insufficient. However, there was interest for a retail center and some additional housing, which became Alameda Landing. In November 2006, the city and Catellus negotiated and executed three separate development agreement amendments: one to eliminate the company’s obligation to develop a business park; the second, to develop commercial uses on the approximately 40 acres (16 ha) east of a new two- and three-lane Fifth Street with on-street parking; and a third residential agreement for about 26 acres (11 ha) to the west, along with four acres (1.6 ha) north of Marina Village Parkway.
The agreements separated the uses to eliminate zoning uncertainty, vest development rights, and facilitate financing of both commercial and residential components. Catellus proceeded to develop a 300,000-square-foot (28,000 sq m) retail center, anchored by a ten-acre (4 ha) parcel it sold to Target for a 140,000-square-foot (13,000 sq m) store on the north end of the site, and built another 50,000-square-foot (4,600 sq m) Safeway supermarket anchor on the southern end, just north of Willie Stargell Avenue.
Seeking a more walkable center, the city encouraged Catellus to create a more urban, double-loaded retail street called Singleton Avenue through the middle of the retail area. The street encompasses four blocks on each side, about 200 feet (61 m) long with varied lot depths flanking a 50-foot-wide (15 m), two-lane right-of-way, with on-street parallel parking and 12-foot-wide (3.7 m) sidewalks, plus street trees and two through-block plazas in the center. Although those blocks are solely retail now, Alameda city planner Andrew Thomas suspects that the central, smaller-block pattern could be extended through the parking areas between Singleton and the two anchors to accommodate future mixed-use additions. An athletic club and a swim school already are quasi-retail tenants in other buildings in the center, which opened in 2015.
In return for building and dedicating the streets within the project, Catellus received a 97.5 percent credit against citywide development impact fees of $3,740 per residential unit and $4.85 per square foot ($52 per sq m) of retail space. The development agreements also required Catellus to develop and fund a transportation demand–management plan, including at buildout a maximum payment of $425,000 (2006 dollars), including up to $125,000 per year for a water shuttle to Oakland. Funding is implemented through assessments on Alameda Landing property.
First Multifamily Units in Four Decades
Because of an Alameda city charter amendment enacted in 1973, no multifamily development had been permitted in the city. Negotiation of site-specific development agreements enabled Catellus to build the first multifamily units in nearly four decades in Alameda Landing under the city’s 2010 density bonus ordinance, which allows developers to build market-rate multifamily units if they reserve 16 percent of the units for affordable housing. A mixed-use planned development district also is available, which permits up to one unit per 2,000 square feet, which is 21 units per acre (8.5 units per ha).
To develop the residential portion of Alameda Landing to which it became entitled in 2006, allow ing up to 300 units of housing, Catellus selected the San Ramon–based northern California division of TRI Pointe Homes, part of the TRI Pointe Group of six regional homebuilders that emerged after the Great Recession and later merged with the Weyerhaeuser Real Estate homebuilding company.
TRI Pointe Homes hired the Oakland office of KTGY Architecture + Planning to refine its concept for the project. To help integrate the residential uses with the retail center, the development team continued Singleton Avenue west through the site where it could eventually connect with another segment of Singleton Avenue along the southern edge of Coast Guard housing to the west. That segment extends to Main Street, which leads to the ferry terminal. The San Francisco Bay Ferry carries passengers on five routes between Alameda Island and San Francisco, a 20-minute ride, and across the harbor to Oakland. The ferry terminal is a 20-minute walk from Alameda Landing and less than five minutes away by rush-hour shuttle. To augment the residential/commercial connection, three-story buildings at each corner where Singleton connects with housing have commercial spaces whose design reflects the brick restaurants and retail buildings that line the opposite side of Fifth Street.
Diversity of Housing Types
To soften the impact of increased density and to appeal to the broadest housing market, the team chose to develop three kinds of housing: 91 two- and three-story single-family detached houses in a neighborhood called Cadence on the western portion of the property, placed on lots about 40 by 75 feet (12 by 23 m), slightly smaller than Bayport’s 45-by-80-foot (14 by 24 m) lots; 106 three-story condominiums and flats called Linear, creating a more urban edge along Fifth Street across from the retail center; and 56 three-story townhouses called Symmetry on a separate 4.3-acre (1.7 ha) parcel north of the Target store, across Mitchell Avenue.
Including 32 more affordable units on Alameda Landing’s southern end, that mix achieved an average density of about 11 units per gross acre (27 units per ha), not that much denser than the nine units per gross acre (22 units per ha) density of Bayport, which is consistent with the scale of the rest of Alameda.
The design divided the projects into 115 buildings (24 multifamily buildings and 91 single-family detached houses) to reduce their apparent scale. In addition, the multifamily buildings were split into six different sizes, including three-, five-, six-, seven-, nine- and ten-plexes. Even though all the 253 units were planned with two parking spaces per unit, all 506 off-street spaces are contained in individual-unit garages within each building, further reducing the projects’ apparent scale. That was intended to meet a public purpose stated in the residential development agreement to maintain the small-town character of the city. Like Bayport, 20-foot-wide (6 m) alleys provide vehicular access to houses, though in order to slow internal traffic, many do not connect directly to larger streets.
Three kinds of communal open space totaling 4.9 acres (2 ha) were incorporated into site design. A village green and a neighborhood common across from it serve as a focal point from Fifth Street toward the east. A half-acre (0.2 ha) town square serves as a private open space for neighbors but is connected through a paseo to Fifth Street. Paseos and courtyards interspersed through the four residential blocks connect them.
Private open space in the neighborhoods of single-family detached homes is concentrated between the houses, “with the great room wrapping around an exterior courtyard to allow for maximum natural light into prime living areas to take full advantage of the Bay Area moderate climate,” says Jill Williams, KTGY board chairman and principal of the Oakland office. The homes’ zero-lot design facilitates privacy for these spaces, she says. The efficiency of the site plan for the townhouses in Symmetry with adjacent walls not only increased their net density to over 19 units per acre (47 units per ha), according to Williams, but also allowed private outdoor open spaces to be larger than those for some of the single-family detached houses.
Incorporating universal design was an important objective of the city and the developers. The plans for two of the four single-family detached homes, accounting for 40 percent of the single-family houses, provide ground-floor suites accommodating multigenerational households or aging in place. In Linear, 22 units are fully accessible to the handicapped. They have zero door thresholds, wider doorways, housewide maneuvering clearances, removable base cabinets, and accessible controls.
To achieve more universal design, KTGY went beyond a typical three-story townhouse configuration and created overlapping units and numerous versions of interlocking units. The fully accessible ground floors of many of the houses and townhouses provide ground-floor great rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, and bathrooms that can facilitate multigenerational living. The multi-family projects come in more than ten designs, from a two-bedroom, two-bath first-floor flat to a four-bedroom townhouse.