Historic Preservation Application Might Jeopardize Wellness Facility

File Photo--The Alameda Wellness Center, providing 100 supportive housing units to formerly unhoused Alameda County elderly individuals, is in jeopardy after an Alameda resident filed a motion to put the property on a historical preservation list.

Historic Preservation Application Might Jeopardize Wellness Facility

An Alameda resident applied to place the property scheduled to house the McKay Avenue Wellness Center on California’s Office of Historic Preservation’s (OHP) list of historically designated buildings to preserve.

The wellness center’s placement on this list would “raise questions about the economic feasibility of the project,” said Andrew Thomas, the City of Alameda Planning, Building and Transportation Director at the June 13 Planning Board meeting.

Alameda resident Carmen Reid filed the nomination application. In her draft application dated April 30, Reid states that the Maritime Service Officers School, the previous tenant of the property, “is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under Criteria A for its association with Maritime, Military, and Education history as a training center for Merchant Marine officers established during the Second World War and continuing through the Korean War.”

She went on to state that “the property is also eligible under Criterion C as an example of Second Bay Tradition architecture as executed by architects Harry Bruno, Fred J. Early and Joseph Esherick. The period of significance is 1943-1953, and the property is nominated at the local level of significance.”

Reid makes the case that the facility should be preserved as is because there are currently no sites or buildings on the National Register specific to the U.S. Merchant Marine and “we think any future adaptive reuse of at least eight of the remaining 13 structures should require original elements to be left intact and commemorative information be made available onsite.”

In the last statement, Reid used the word “we,” however, it has been revealed that she filed this application by herself. On the application, Reid put Alameda Architectural Preservation Society (AAPS) as her affiliated organization — Reid is a member of the organization. Thomas said the application was filed by AAPS at the June 13 meeting.

In response Karen Lithgow, President of AAPS, sent a letter to the Planning Board that Reid was the sole filer of the application the letter was posted on blog, Blogging Bayport Alameda. The blog also reported a series that questions whether AAPS was involved in the application process.

At the meeting, Thomas said the city was counting on the wellness center project to produce 100 units of housing, which would count toward the city’s mandate to build 5,353 housing units for the 2023-2031 housing element.

“Worst case scenario to the housing project is we remove 100 units from the McKay site,” said Thomas. “Obviously, we have to make those units up. The only place to make those units up is in the residential districts, putting more pressure to open up the zoning in the residential districts.”

People have questioned the 11th hour filing of this property on the list.

“It doesn’t make sense, other than a stalling tactic,” said Planning Board member Ronald Curtis.”

California State Senator Nancy Skinner also opposed the property’s nomination.

“I write to express deep concern about the proposed nomination of the U.S. Maritime Service Officers School to the National Register of Historic Places,” Skinner in a letter to the OPH. “The public record presented by the City of Alameda and General Services Administration reflects comprehensive and exhaustive study of the site by historic preservation experts.”

OPH will hold a hearing on Aug. 5 to decide whether to include the property in its historically designated buildings to preserve list, according to Thomas.

The McKay Wellness Center has faced stiff opposition since it was proposed. City Council permitted Alameda Point Collaborative to build the facility in October 2018. However, Friends of Crab Cove (FOCC) gathered enough signatures to create a ballot measure on a special election ballot to rezone the property housing the facility. Voters overwhelmingly approved Measure A, at the April 9 special election, confirming the city’s decisions to allow the wellness center to move forward, while also rejecting Measure B, which would have prohibited the center in favor of rezoning the parcel for open space.

The FOCC then tried to get the Alameda County Superior Court to halt the center. However, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ruled against FOCC’s attempt to block the development at the final merits hearing on Aug. 16, 2019 (“Suit Fails; New Wellness Center Moves Forward,” Aug. 27, 2019).

The Alameda Wellness Center is a part of the Alameda Wellness Campus. The campus will provide:
• 100 permanent housing units for Alameda County residents ages 55+
• 50-bed recuperative care for unhoused Alameda County residents to resolve acute conditions, stabilize chronic conditions, and receive hospice care
• A Primary Care Clinic for medical respite patients and senior housing residents
• Resource Center for homelessness prevention and placement for unhoused and at-risk City of Alameda individuals and families

Editor's Note: This article was updated to include Blogging Bayport Alameda's as a source of Karen Lithgow's letter to the Planning Board and the questioning of AAPS' involvement in the application. It was also updated to not say Andrew Thomas was incorrect for saying AAPS was the filer of the application as that has been put into question.