Workshop Held to Discuss Shopping Center Zoning

Karin Jensen South Shore is one of several potential options for housing developments at shopping centers.

Workshop Held to Discuss Shopping Center Zoning

On Jan. 10th, the Planning Board held a public workshop to review a proposed zoning code amendment to permit and encourage housing developments on shopping center sites to accommodate the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA).

The RHNA is the State of California-required process to ensure that cities and counties plan enough housing to accommodate all economic segments of the community. For the 2023-2031 RHNA cycle, the state allocated 441,176 housing units for the 101 cities and counties in the San Francisco Bay Area; Alameda’s share is 5,353. Per state requirements, the City needs to accommodate buffer units for a total of 6,156 units.

In addition to housing planned for Alameda Point, Encinal Terminals, and other parcels, the City’s draft Housing Element depends on up-zoning the City’s shopping centers, Park and Webster streets, and the residential districts. (The Housing Element is Alameda’s housing plan.)

Due to the small sites and limited capacity on Park and Webster streets and residential neighborhoods, the plan relies heavily on constructing a large portion of the RHNA at the shopping centers. The current goal for shopping centers is 1,200 housing units built over eight years.

The shopping centers initially proposed at the workshop were:
• Alameda Landing
• Marina Village
• South Shore
• Harbor Bay
• Neptune Plaza
• Park Street Plaza (on Blanding Avenue)
• Blanding Shopping Center (near Fruitvale Bridge)

Planning Department staff recommended rezoning the shopping centers to allow high-density housing construction. Planning, Building, and Transportation Director Andrew Thomas said that the more housing constructed at the shopping centers, the more pressure is taken away from the residential areas to accommodate new housing. He noted that the South Shore shopping center owners want to retain the core commercial buildings surrounded by parking and add housing to the outer edges of their property.

Board members discussed what standards to set for the ground floor of these mixed-use areas. There was a consensus that the ground floors didn’t have to be all retail which would be hard to fill given existing vacancies. Ideas proposed included live-work spaces, daycares, and fitness facilities.

Public Comment
Six members of the public commented. There was general support for high-density housing in the shopping centers to provide more affordable homes with easy access to public transit and shopping without diminishing existing green space.

However, Daniel Hoy noted that the West Alameda Business Association (WABA) opposed including Neptune Plaza in the shopping center rezoning. He referenced a letter from WABA Executive Director Linda Asbury, which noted that the proposed amendments as applied to Neptune Plaza would be inconsistent with the Webster Street Vision Plan. The Vision Plan calls for retaining the architectural character of the street’s historic core south of Lincoln Street, including three-story maximum building heights.

Chris Buckley of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society also spoke in support of retaining the three-story height limit for the proposed Neptune Plaza Multi-Family Residential Zone. He said the proposed five-story height limit would be out of scale with everything nearby.

Planning Board members expressed willingness to remove Neptune Plaza from the shopping center rezoning plans. The Planning Department will include it in the plans for Webster Street rezoning instead.

Buckley also spoke in support of increasing the proposed density of the estuary shopping centers higher than the proposed 100 units per acre to maximize development potential. However, Zac Bowling of East Bay Yes in My Backyard (YIMBY) opposed focusing density on the estuary shopping centers, saying this would unduly focus on shopping centers on the West End. Still, he spoke in general support of mixed-use areas as vital for creating a walkable community that gets people out of cars.

What’s Next
Based on comments received at the workshop, Planning Department staff will have further discussions with shopping center owners and prepare a final draft zoning code amendment for Planning Board consideration and recommendation to the City Council at a future Planning Board meeting.