Waterfront Access and the Bay Farm Development

The Skirmish over Harbor Bay Club is just latest in long history or disputes about construction along the Bay.


Bay Trail

Chris Duffey

For about as long as people have lived on San Francisco Bay, there has been tension over developing or preserving this rich natural resource. And like other communities that ring the Bay, Alameda’s Bay Farm Island is no exception: From the arrival of the Spanish in the 1700s to the struggle between the Island’s asparagus farmers and developers in the 1800s to the effort to connect the island to Oakland with landfill in the 1900s, Bay Farm Island residents have experienced their share of conflict.

The latest dispute involves plans submitted to the city of Alameda by developer Ron Cowan’s Harbor Bay Isle Associates to move Bay Farm’s Harbor Bay Club, currently located on Packet Landing Road, to the Harbor Bay Business Park. In place of the club, the company then proposes to build either 80 two- and three-story, single-family homes or a 212-room hotel and conference center.

Last April, Harbor Bay Isle Associates submitted plans to the city of Alameda to move the club from Packet Landing Road to the business park. In the fall, the company also proposed to build the houses or hotel and conference center in place of the club. The homes would require rezoning of the land where the club currently sits, while the hotel and conference center would not.

“The idea of building housing or a hotel on the spot where the club is now is not a new one,” says Harbor Bay Isle Associates president Tim Hoppen. “We’ve studied both options before.”

Hoppen says Harbor Bay Isle Associates wants to move the club because its infrastructure is aging. The current facility has about 20,000 square feet; he says the new club would be double that size, with larger studio, fitness and spa areas; expanded locker rooms; more parking; an all-weather multi-purpose sports field and five swimming areas, including an adult pool, a family pool, a diving pool, a dedicated kids’ pool, and a splash pad area for toddlers.

“We’ve known for years that the Harbor Bay Club would not be able to sustain itself at the current location,” he says. “As recently as 2010, when we were working on a new master plan for the Alameda golf course, many of the studies focused on the inclusion of a new Harbor Bay Club.”

But proposals to relocate and upgrade the club—and construct something else in its place—are causing consternation among some Bay Farm residents, who complain that the plans would mean not only the loss of a valuable amenity, but also disrupt their connection to one of Alameda’s most precious assets: the water.

Over the summer, residents opposed to both the club’s relocation and new construction formed a group called Harbor Bay Neighbors, which now has more than 800 members, according to spokesman Tim Coffey.

“Harbor Bay Isle Associates is trying to make changes that are not at all good for the community—as well as being beyond the scope of the original development agreements,” Coffey says.

If the plans move forward, Coffey gripes, residents living adjacent to the existing club would no longer have views of mature trees and the estuary, and club members would no longer have open views of the San Francisco waterfront and the Bay.

“Recreation space near the water is a critically important part of life in Alameda, and homeowners throughout Harbor Bay have already sacrificed a lot in exchange for a 10-acre facility,” Coffey says. “Initially, the Harbor Bay master development plan included 44 acres of recreational space, but over the years the city has reduced it—at Harbor Bay Isle Associates’ request—to the less than nine acres where the club sits now.”

Of course, views of San Leandro Channel also would be key to the appeal of either development. Site plans suggest that 24 home sites or almost twice as many hotel rooms would boast waterfront views. In a letter to the city about the hotel and conference center proposal, which just emerged recently, Harbor Bay Isle Associates touted the property’s “quiet, retreat-like setting.”

However, neither development proposal would appear to affect public access to the segment of the Bay Trail adjacent to the club along the north coast of Bay Farm Island.

Although the golf course master plan and relocation of the club were initially linked, they are now separate. Plans for the new Harbor Bay Club on North Loop Road and the plans to redevelop the club’s existing property are no longer tied together and are being reviewed by the city as separate, stand-alone projects.

“The proposal for new homes at Packet Landing Road would require a rezoning,” says city planner Andrew Thomas. “So the planning board would make a recommendation to the City Council on that proposal, and the council would make the final decision. But the decision about building the hotel and the new club would be made by the planning board, and any who disagree could appeal to the council.”

Neither proposal would appear to affect public access to the Bay Trail.

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