Now that Ron Cowan's Harbor Bay Isle Associates (HBIA) has thumbed its nose at city officials and Harbor Bay neighbors on Bay Farm Island by giving the media a preview of its latest proposal before filing an application, let's take a serious look at this latest scheme.
Instead of proposing to build 80 to 160 homes on the existing club parcel, Cowan now wants to plop down a massive 212-room hotel and conference center. Yes, he wants to replace a valuable recreational asset with an 11-building complex in a residential neighborhood that would not serve Alamedans in any way, shape or form. It's an incomprehensible location for a hotel and would continuously expose us -- and the 600 little kids attending Amelia Earhart Elementary School -- to hundreds of travelers going to and from Oakland International Airport. Not to mention the disturbance to neighbors caused by the 8,000-square-foot restaurant, bar and banquet hall.
Cowan expects that by requesting a separation of his initial application for the two projects, it'll clear the way to move the club from its existing location to a parcel in the business park while a "new use" for the current club site is determined. Not so fast.
He is conveniently forgetting that the City of Alameda granted him the right to swap 44 acres of recreational space for the 10-acre Harbor Bay Club parcel under the provision that "the purpose of the Harbor Bay Club is and shall continue to be to provide quality recreation facilities for the residents of Harbor Bay Isle residential development." In doing so, he agreed that his ownership of the club parcel is inextricably tied to its use as a recreational facility.
No one can deny that the current club, while in need of an upgrade, perfectly serves Harbor Bay Isle residents exactly where it is -- within the official Community of Harbor Bay Isle Planned Unit Development, providing easy pedestrian access for Harbor Bay Isle residents and on a parcel of land that was zoned "commercial-recreation" specifically for this purpose. HBIA maintains that, "the need to build a new club is the driving force behind both projects."
If that's true, then Cowan can build the new club on the existing club land, where it can continue to provide recreational amenities to those residents he has an obligation to serve. He could probably save more than a few million dollars by avoiding the massive and messy demolition of the current tennis courts and swimming pool, too.
And the business park -- with its two existing hotels -- is the logical and appropriate location for Cowan's hotel and conference center complex. Since both parcels are nearly identical in size and shape, it shouldn't take much to "swap" plans. Upgrading or rebuilding the club where it is and building a hotel in the business park is a win-win-win: it gives the community the new club that Cowan insists is driving his proposal and gives Cowan his new hotel in a great location with easy airport access, away from residents.
Doing this "swap" is good for the city, too. Tax revenues would remain the same, and unlike Cowan's current plan, no changes would be necessary to the city's General Plan, the Community of Harbor Bay Isle's PUD Master Plan or to current zoning. City resources would not be sucked up on an ill-conceived project that has stiff opposition from the 850 residents and 1,500 homeowner association members who comprise Harbor Bay Neighbors. Our city resources could be better spent on more critical issues such as Alameda Point -- a much larger venture that will have an enormous financial impact on the city and its future.
I urge all residents to let the City Council and Planning Board know that you support swapping Cowan's plans so he rebuilds Harbor Bay Club on its current site and builds his hotel in the business park. It's the "swap" that makes sense.
Bonnie Headlee is a founding member of Harbor Bay Neighbors (http://harborbayneighbors.wordpress.com) and an Alameda resident for more than 30 years.