ALAMEDA -- An urban forest with walking and bicycle paths, gardens and a frog pond will be features of the future Jean Sweeney Open Space Park under a draft plan that city officials are now considering.
The 22-acre former railroad property, which is bordered by Constitution Way, Atlantic Avenue and Sherman Street, would also feature a lawn with a gazebo, a covered picnic pavilion and an outdoor classroom with stone seating, according to the conceptual plan.
The Cross Alameda Trail, a walking and bicycle path that will eventually stretch across the Island, will skirt the site's northern edge.
While the features are based on what the public said they wanted in the park, the design will likely be tweaked as city officials move forward with the project.
"This is a gigantic parcel of land and there is a wide variety of things that could happen there," Planning Board President David Burton said when the board considered the draft plan on Dec. 16. " I think this plan strikes a pretty good balance."
What remains unknown is just when the park will open. Amy Woolridge, director of the Alameda Recreation and Park Department, said an opening date will hinge on funding, which in turn will be guided by the park's final design. The money is expected to come from grants, private donations and other sources.
"Really, we can't open it until we get the basic infrastructure and the Cross Alameda Trail and lighting in so that it's safe and secure and can be patrolled," Woolridge said. "We are really conscientious to make sure that this does not become an attractive nuisance for neighbors."
The future park is named after Jean Sweeney, a longtime Alameda resident who died in November 2011. Sweeney campaigned to preserve the former Alameda Beltline property as a park when many dismissed the idea as too expensive and facing too many legal hurdles.
She was inspired after a November 1998 visit to the site, her husband Jim Sweeney said.
"I will never forget it," Sweeney said. "We got in there and after a couple of minutes, she said, 'This has to be a park.' We noted the birds, the quiet and naturalness and the 'food for the soul' that was out there."
Jean Sweeney unearthed the 1924 contract between the city of Alameda and the railroad company -- a contract that contained a clause that allowed the city to buy back the property for the original $30,000 price, plus the cost of any investments or improvement that the railroad made over the decades.
The contract cleared the way for the city to purchase the property for just less than $1 million in a deal that was wrapped up in October last year. The site's current market value is about $20 million. Planning Board member Kristoffer Koster, an architect, created the draft plan pro bono.
Along with walking paths and other amenities, the plan shows a bicycle skills track and parking lots on each side of the property with a total of 180 spaces. A landscaped Zen garden is also proposed.
Jim Sweeney said he feared that the draft plan called for too much development at the site.
"I am just concerned about the overall tenor of where it's going," Sweeney said. "... that it's so wonderful we got to put a lot of stuff into it. We have to prevent that."
Board member Mike Henneberry said he believed the future park will need to strike balance between offering users active and passive recreation.