Alameda’s First High-Rise?

A 589-unit housing project featuring a 14-story tower is proposed for the old Encinal Terminals on the estuary. It would be the tallest building on the Island.


Mike O'Hara of Tim Lewis Communities says they plan to build "a world-class waterfront" project.

Photo by Chris Duffey

Is Alameda ready for its first high-rise? A developer is proposing to build a 14-story, 589-unit housing project on the waterfront at the long-dormant Encinal Terminals site. The project, which would be constructed directly across the estuary from Oakland’s 3,100-unit Brooklyn Basin housing development now under construction, would feature the Island’s tallest building.

“We are building a world-class waterfront” that will be “a centerpiece for the estuary,” said Mike O’Hara, a representative of developer Tim Lewis Communities, or TLC. TLC recently broke ground on another 380-unit housing project on the adjoining historic Del Monte warehouse property.

TLC’s application for the Encinal Terminals project, of which 15 percent of the units would be affordable housing, is making its way through Alameda’s planning process. The project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report was released in February. The Roseville home builder is seeking to construct 500 multifamily homes, along with 89 townhomes, on the peninsula between Wind River and the Fortman Marina. The development also will include 50,000-square-feet of commercial space and open up almost a mile of previously inaccessible shoreline.

Alameda’s chief planner, Andrew Thomas, called the proposal “an exciting opportunity for Alameda. It is rare to have an undeveloped property surrounded by water on three sides.” He said the city’s 2007 General Plan process made providing public access to the waterfront site a top priority. The plan calls for large waterfront promenades and parks to be part of the Bay Trail network.

In a break from Alameda tradition, every person to comment on the project at a recent Planning Board workshop spoke in favor of the housing it would provide. “That space is currently a gray field, and every day that it is not developed is a day that it is wasted on bird droppings—when it could actually be used by Alameda residents,” said Alameda homeowner Josh Geyer. “I want to be a part of a city that is doing its part. I do not want to see my friends and neighbors priced out of living in the Bay Area. I want us to contribute.”

Courtesy of Tim Lewis Communities

O’Hara said TLC plans to build for the “full spectrum” of residents, from studios up to large penthouses and townhomes. He said 30 percent of the homes will be 1,200 square feet or smaller. “We are trying to build for the missing middle,” he added. “Something for everybody.”

Despite the lack of opposition to the project at the recent Alameda Planning Board meeting, Alameda’s congestion-weary residents will surely make their voices heard when the project comes up for a vote later this year. The project’s Draft EIR suggests that the development will generate about 4,300 car trips per day. However, that is about 1,100 fewer trips than the 2007 plan that called for 165 single-family homes and 200,000 square feet of commercial development on the site. Still, Thomas said the development would add a significant number of motorists trying to leave the Island each morning and return each evening.

The city will require the developer to provide infrastructure for a water shuttle that could connect to the Brooklyn Basin development across the estuary in Oakland. “We want to build a project with less reliance on automobiles,” added O’Hara, referencing plans to provide AC Transit passes for residents. TLC also plans to offer a car-sharing program and allow residents to pay less for housing if they don’t own a car—a program known as “unbundled parking.”

Thomas said that because the project is dense and will be close to transit options, like the new Line 19 bus service on Buena Vista Avenue, it would generate less traffic than a typical Alameda household. Harbor Bay “generates the highest” vehicle miles traveled per capita, in Alameda, Thomas said. He explained that the project is much more environmentally friendly than forcing housing units to be built on the region’s outskirts where reliance on cars and distances traveled would be much higher.

But the proposed 14-story tower may stoke fears among Alameda’s historic preservation community. At a meeting on the project last summer, a design that suggested a 24-story tower would be included in the development was met with near-unanimous opposition from planning board members and attendees. The new plan and 14-story tower got a much more favorable reception from planning board members, even from ones who showed signs of being leery of high-density development in the past—although the project will require a special zoning exemption from the area’s 60-foot-height limit.

Thomas said the recent approval of the Site A housing development at Alameda Point laid the blueprint for allowing taller buildings than the area zoning allows. “My feeling is to give the Planning Board the ability to approve more than six stories if, when you see the design, it knocks your socks off,” he said. 

Planning board member Lorre Zuppan said, “I was not enamored of the 29-, 30-floor idea. But I think 14 or 15 stories—I think we could do. That is an opportunity at the end of that pier where you don’t have any surrounding neighbors. It doesn’t have much impact on the rest of the surrounding area. And with a public viewing platform on the top, I think this would be great. The views from there are beautiful.”

Zuppan and other board members suggested that they could approve an “iconic design” and would prefer to see a mix of building heights instead of a continuous wall of five-story buildings that fit under the current height limit. They also echoed several public speakers who spoke in favor of the 14-story high-rise, including Geyer, who said, “I think that it would balance some of the taller buildings on the opposite side of the estuary.” The Brooklyn Basin project will feature housing towers ranging from 12 to 24 stories.

But the Encinal Terminals project faces a more complicated regulatory approval than most developments. The 32-acre site includes nine submerged acres, large dilapidated wharf structures, and six acres of state tidelands. Under state law, tidelands property cannot be used for housing, so the project would require the swapping of private acreage around the perimeter of the site for tidelands property in the interior—a plan that also would have to be approved by the state.

“My biggest concern is the swap,” said Alison Greene, a nearby resident who cofounded the neighborhood group PLAN Alameda to address concerns of residents during the Del Monte project process in 2014. She said she was worried that the city was “selling us short,” and that Alameda should get the best deal possible from the developer for facilitating the swap. “There is a quality of life issue,” Greene added, referring to the fact the development will further stress the area’s street network and parking availability. In addition to the city and the state, the project also will need approval from the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.

For O’Hara, he thinks the project “answers the call” of the region’s severe housing shortage.

Alameda resident Chris Perry agreed at the recent planning board workshop. “We need more housing,” Perry said. “My fiancée is an Alameda public school teacher; we got kicked out of our apartment this year. We chose to stay [in Alameda]; we want to raise our family here. We know that we are in a crisis, and we can’t advocate for affordable housing unless we build more density.”

The Alameda Planning Board is holding another hearing on the Encinal Terminals project on Monday, March 27.


Published online on March 27, 2017 at 9:00 a.m.