ALAMEDA -- City officials say they will fight a lawsuit filed by the East Bay Regional Park District over their decision to rezone property near the entrance to Robert Crown Memorial State Beach for housing, calling the legal challenge a "waste of taxpayer dollars."
The lawsuit maintains the City Council's decision to rezone the neighborhood at the foot of McKay Avenue -- which could help clear the way for the construction of up to 126 housing units at a site of former federal offices -- is not compatible with the recreational uses of the nearby beach and park.
The council made the zoning change in July as part of the Housing Element of its General Plan, or the portion that identifies sites to accommodate the city's projected housing needs and other aspects of residential development.
"We were never consulted on the rezoning despite repeatedly expressing our interest and concerns with any development at this site," said Robert Doyle, the park district's general manager. "Had we been notified, the park district would have taken a strong position that a new high density housing development next to our visitor center, sensitive mud flats, and our service yard would clearly not be compatible."
The lawsuit, filed Nov. 8 in Alameda County Superior Court, follows the district failing to obtain the property through an online auction held last year by the General Services Administration, losing to a private developer.
Mayor Marie Gilmore said the lawsuit is an attempt to reverse the auction outcome. "I'm disappointed that the park district would waste taxpayer dollars suing us when the lawsuit is not necessary," Gilmore said. "The City Council's rezoning of the land to allow for housing does not prevent the park district from using it for park purposes. They just need to acquire the land from the federal government. Alameda was pulled in because (the district) wants to reverse the land sale."
The four-acre site -- known as "Neptune Pointe" -- is located along McKay Avenue and west of Crown beach and the park district's Crab Cove Visitor Center. A parking lot for about 40 vehicles serves visitors. The lot is too small, park officials say, especially since schoolchildren arrive for field trips.
Securing Neptune Pointe would allow the district to increase parking, expand the center and protect the beach, Doyle said.
In their lawsuit, park district representatives contend the City Council did not provide proper notice about the rezoning, and that it approved the change without a completed Environmental Impact Report.
The neighborhood was one of several where the council adopted zoning changes to meet the city's affordable housing and other residential needs. The changes also brought the city's Housing Element into compliance with state law, which city officials say is necessary to be eligible for grants for transportation and other projects.
State officials certified the Housing Element in July. The winner of the auction for Neptune Pointe was STL Companies LLC. It has designated Roseville-based Tim Lewis Communities as the developer. The price of the lot was not immediately available. But the opening bid was set at $1 million, government records show.
"The park district's long history in Alameda, providing local jobs, plus millions and millions of dollars over decades invested into Alameda to operate and maintain Crown beach makes this especially troubling," said Doug Siden, Alameda's representative on the district's board. "I am very disappointed with all of this."