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The Albany Waterfront – Open Space Outcome For City Visioning Process.

Partisan Position

By Patricia Jones
Monday April 26, 2010 - 09:06:00 PM

The Albany community came together for open space and recreation for the Albany Waterfront, allowing only minimal ‘green’ development in its vision for the waterfront. 

On April 19, 2010, the Albany City Council unanimously voted to accept the results of its study, the Voices to Vision Report, to be used as a living document that reflects Albany citizens' visions on waterfront planning. Mayor Joanne Wile described Voices to Vision as admirable. She joined the council in praising the participants as well as Fern Tiger & Associates for their hard work and dedication to producing an open, inclusive, comprehensive process and result. 

Albany began this intensive two-year process to get the community's vision for the Albany waterfront at the urging of environmentalists, including Citizens for East Shore Parks (CESP), the Sierra Club, and Golden Gate Audubon, and Citizens for the Albany Shoreline (CAS).  

Dubbed “Voices to Vision,” the process involved public workshops, interviews and questionnaires, where everyone in Albany, plus outsiders, got the chance to participate and describe/create the waterfront they imagined. 

The workshops were the high point - two massive sets of sessions with hands-on tabletop workshops designed to let participants “create” the waterfront to their liking. Participants started with a model of a plain Albany waterfront and then added park, open space, housing, retail, hotel, commercial, housing, racetrack, whatever their imaginations conjured, to form their own versions of the future Albany waterfront (with an eye to replace revenue that would be lost if the racetrack were to close). 


The Long Awaited Results: 

The vast majority of Albany residents want roughly 75% of the property to be preserved for open space and parks and want development to be limited to no more than 25% of the property.  

According to Fern Tiger of Fern Tiger Associates, hired by Albany to create and conduct the process, Albany residents overwhelmingly wanted to preserve as much open space as they could, while still maintaining the revenue that the city and school district now see from the operations of the racetrack. 


Despite a range of opinions, from ‘all park’ to ‘intense development’, the large majority of Albany residents wanted to preserve the income with limited development while devoting the balance to open space and park. Community members found they have more in common about the waterfront than differences. 


Environmentalists support:  

Environmentalists uniformly supported the Vision and urged the city council to vote to use the report as a guide by which to view any future development plan. 

CESP President Robert Cheasty, in supporting the Voices to Vision, said that any potential development plans need to take into account that the Albany Waterfront sits in the middle of the Eastshore State Park and should not obstruct flow from the park. He also urged preserving Fleming Point and recognition of the historical significance of the last remaining part of the original shoreline in the East Bay. 

Norman LaForce, Chair of the San Francisco Chapter of the Sierra Club, complimented the city for its foresight in creating this process, enabling Albany to have a vision to guide potential developers in understanding what the community would support. 


For Data Junkies: 

(From the survey) - In addition to open space, 97% of residents in the online survey agree that ‘enjoying nature’ and expanding or completing the Bay Trail (91%) are appropriate uses for the waterfront. Other highly rated uses for the shoreline include ‘waterfront recreation’ (86%), ‘exercise and sports’(74%), ‘bike/pedestrian bridge/zones from Buchanan’ (70/69%). However, more than two-thirds (68%) of those surveyed do not think housing is an appropriate use for the shoreline.  

Interestingly, those who answered the survey were split about a hotel on the Albany waterfront - 35% agree hotels are appropriate, 37% disagree. But 85% of total attendees at the workshops placed a hotel, mostly a boutique hotel, on some spot on the waterfront. A hotel was favored for small footprint, good revenue and because there is no hotel in Albany.  

Tiger pointed out that a boutique hotel (less than three hundred rooms) scored big with the public at the workshops, as did a modest amount of retail (250,000 square feet) with the hotel. She further offered her opinion that the hotel made the most sense on Fleming Point (the west side bluff over the water) both for its views and for its solid underlying rock for construction. 

Tiger reported that the community disfavored any retail on Fleming Point. She also stated that residential, office, big box retail and manufacturing were all disfavored for the waterfront. 

Other results favored: some expanded wetlands, boardwalks at wetlands, athletic areas, public restrooms and shuttle service to downtown Albany; LEED-certified requirement for any buildings, gray water recovery systems, photovoltaics and/or native plant landscaping on roofs and consideration of sea level rise. Built area should "support the primary objective of open space, preservation and outdoor recreation, while enhancing the unique qualities of the waterfront.”  


What About Horse Racing?  

Surprisingly, only about 9% of the participants favored keeping the horse racetrack at the Albany waterfront. Golden Gate Fields still runs horseracing now, and according to the track owners will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. However, most Albany residents are looking forward to a day when the track would be replaced with other uses. 


What About the CESP/Sierra Club Vision? 

In many respects the community’s vision was not that far off from the vision proposed over the past 15 years by Citizens for East Shore Parks (CESP), the Sierra Club, Audubon and Citizens for the Albany Shoreline (CAS). They had put forth a waterfront vision of 85% open space with about 15% of the land for development including a hotel and some retail, built on the east side of the site at least 700 feet away from the water. 


Dissent from the Pro-Development Faction: 

At the City Council meeting Monday night about ten pro-development speakers complained that the Report did not allow enough development to entice commercial builders and opposed the adoption of the Report. 


For the Political Junkies: 

Observing from the audience was a member of former State Senator Dion Aroner's lobbying and consulting firm, which represents Golden Gate Fields, and which spearheaded the track owner’s failed campaign to get approval of a mall development added to the racetrack in the mid 2000’s. Aroner’s firm helped organize one faction in Albany into a vociferous cheering squad for the track’s development proposal. 

However, this effort to get the track’s shopping mall approved activated the community backlash that caused an electoral turnover, reinstating the environmental faction as the majority of the Albany City Council.  


Patricia Jones is Executive Director of Citizens for East Shore Parks. Partisan Position articles are written by people who have taken an active advocacy role in what they're reporting on.