Dawn of a New Waterfront

Plans for projects at the Del Monte and Encinal Terminals promise to revive the estuary, but traffic concerns slow down their progress.


Published:

Mike Rosati

 

Northern California homebuilder Tim Lewis Communities is in the midst of launching a redevelopment project for the Del Monte warehouse and its neighbor, Encinal Terminals, in Alameda. The developer intends to repurpose the properties as apartments, retail stores, and open space to create a mixed-use residential area along Alameda’s Northern Waterfront.

By all accounts this is a major endeavor. Plans call for transforming the 240,000-square-foot warehouse into two four-story apartment buildings with 308 units and 25,000 square feet of retail space. The buildings will be divided by Benton Road, which James Meek, director of land for Tim Lewis Communities, said will give Alameda residents access to the Alameda-Oakland estuary for the first time in nearly a century.

Plans for the Encinal Terminals are in an even earlier stage, but the developer has a similar vision of apartments or condos mixed with retailers, restaurants, and open public space.

"It has unbelievable potential to be just fantastic," said Alameda city planner Andrew Thomas. "The opportunity here is to create a great place to live, a great place to work, a great place to play-it has the potential to be one of the most interesting neighborhoods in Alameda."

Redeveloping an Alameda property is easier said than done, especially with a building like the Del Monte. The warehouse is one of Alameda’s oldest and best-preserved civic monuments. Built in 1927 by the California Packing Corp., the Del Monte served as a canning and packing facility for decades. The building itself-more than 1,000 feet long-is built on a curve, which was the result of following a railway that connected to the Alameda Belt Line. The Del Monte changed hands several times over the decades until Damco, a trucking company, took over the facility.

Despite changes in ownership, minimal alterations have been made to the building. Meek said that aside from some concrete loading docks (the original loading bays were low to the ground, to accommodate horse-drawn carts), the original building is largely still intact. The good news for the developer is that the original building has an ideal set up for the project plans.

"At the end of the day, it will look the same, although we’ll put in modernized windows and such," Meek said.

Earlier this year the Alameda Historical Advisory Board certified that the proposed design plan for the building is consistent with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

But sorting out transportation for the incoming residents is another story. With its 300-plus units, the Del Monte could potentially bring hundreds of new drivers into the neighborhood, which already experiences severe traffic congestion on a daily basis.

To head this problem off, the developer and the city are trying to create a Transportation Demand Management Plan that will significantly reduce the number of new cars being used in the neighborhood.

And to do that, the developer is looking at several different public transit options that could funnel new residents to and from work. One idea that Meek likes is a water shuttle service to ferry residents across the estuary (about a five-minute boat ride) where a second shuttle would deliver them to 12th Street Oakland BART station.

Meek said that this transit option has the obvious merit of keeping new commuters out of Alameda’s desperately clogged tubes and off the bridges. And, he said, it’s not that radical of an idea, if you look at Alameda history.

"It’s not that far to the other side," Meek said. "You go back to the 1920s, that whole era when they didn’t have BART or the tubes, hundreds of boats would cross the estuary every day."

John Atkinson, a transportation expert contracted for the Del Monte project, said that the transit system established for the Del Monte and Encinal sites will eventually be extended to other project sites along the Northern Waterfront, which will be run by an organization called the Transportation Management Association.

This organization will manage public transportation in the area, and it will integrate new development sites into the transit system as they fill with tenants. It hasn’t yet been decided what vehicles-shuttles, ferries, or buses-will be used in the transit system, and the developers and the city also haven’t agreed what agency or organization will oversee it.

There is another significant-and potentially controversial-element to the plan for the Del Monte project: an extension of Clement Avenue, which runs next to the warehouse. Clement currently stops at the Encinal and Del Monte properties, pinching off a potential traffic artery. A major component of the developer’s plan involves completing Clement Street, creating a four-lane commuter route that releases some of the pressure on Webster Street.

"It will change the traffic patterns all over Alameda," Meek said. "That would be four lanes running from here to the other end of the island."

This is potentially great news for Alameda commuters, who will have access to a street that crosses the island. Some locals in the Northern Waterfront are also thrilled by the extension, which they hope will keep frustrated commuters from trying to bypass the traffic on Webster Street by racing through other quiet residential streets.

But some residents still have reservations about the development. Alison Greene, a local who sees the Del Monte property every time she looks out her back window, said she and other community members are concerned that transit services won’t be able to accommodate all the new residents. She’s also worried that the restaurants and major-chain stores being planned for the project site will create an insulated enclave that doesn’t contribute anything to the Northern Waterfront neighborhood-other than traffic.

"Overall, the picture might play out like this: more traffic, blocking themselves off from the neighborhood, and becoming separate from Alameda," Greene said.

How the projects play out remains to be seen, with the Del Monte development likely returning to the city planning board this fall and the public review process on Encinal Terminals proceeding.

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