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Planning Board Discusses Design Standard Revisions, Estuary Bridge

At its April 10 meeting, the City of Alameda Planning Board discussed the recently adopted Objective Design Review Standards and heard an update on the Oakland-Alameda Estuary Bridge Project.

Objective design review standards

In response to recently enacted California legislation, the City has developed objective design review standards to establish specific, quantifiable architectural design guidelines to streamline the review process for new housing developments. Unlike subjective design guidelines (e.g., “consistent with the character of the neighborhood”), which often require interpretation and lengthy discourse, objective guidelines “involve no personal or subjective judgment by a public official and are uniformly verifiable by reference to an external and uniform benchmark.”

Since 2020, the City has processed applications for three multifamily housing projects and several residential additions using the Objective Standards. On Wednesday night, City staff presented a series of recommended revisions to “further refine” the Objective Standards based on lessons learned from past projects as well as comments from the public and the Historical Advisory Board.



Examples of the revisions include:

Alameda Post - Live plant trellises are difficult to upkeep, and plant death may lead to unsightly conditions. City of Alameda photo.
Live plant trellises are difficult to upkeep, and plant death may lead to unsightly conditions. City of Alameda photo.
  • On walls facing a public street, remove or replace “climbing plant trellises” as a design option due to difficulties of keeping plants alive (multifamily/mixed-use projects).
  • Clarify and streamline the types and installation methods of windows on one- and two-family projects.
  • Clarify that the standard for incorporating the “Golden Mean” principle for raising a building only applies to the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles, and similar structures with tall basements.
  • Add illustrations to demonstrate standards more clearly.

Public commenters echoed the Historical Advisory Board’s recommendation to include northern portions of both Webster Street and Park Street within the boundaries of the “Traditional Design Area” (TDA). To build within the TDA, which encompasses much of central Alameda, project applicants must mimic neighboring buildings in their design. The Planning Board directed staff to include northern Park Street in the TDA, but not northern Webster Street due to the lower prevalence of historical character.

Alameda Post - Alameda’s existing Traditional Design Area with the boundaries of the northern Park Street portion proposed to be added. Map by Christopher Buckley for the City of Alameda.
Traditional Design Area with the boundaries of the northern Park Street portion proposed to be added. Map by Christopher Buckley for the City of Alameda.

As this was a study session, the Board was not required to take any action but discussed each revision at length.

Estuary bridge update

City of Alameda Senior Transportation Coordinator Rochelle Wheeler gave a progress update on the Oakland-Alameda Estuary Bridge Project, which proposes a new bicycle and pedestrian bridge connecting the West End to Jack London Square in Oakland.

Alameda Post - Estuary Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge
This rendering of the proposed Western Corridor bicycle and pedestrian drawbridge would stretch across the Estuary from Fifth Street in Alameda’s West End to Oakland’s Jack London Square. Rendering from City of Alameda.

The project is currently in the Project Initiation Document (PID) phase, which consists of community and stakeholder engagement to build project knowledge and support, identification of funding, and development of up to six bridge alignment alternatives. A new bridge, said Wheeler, will reduce the bike/pedestrian barrier and enhance multimodal connectivity between Oakland and Alameda while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by eliminating up to 40,000 weekly vehicle trips through the Posey and Webster Street Tubes.

In this early stage, the City has released three alignment alternatives (Western, Central, and Eastern corridors) that connect key points on both sides of the Estuary while navigating over and across several right-of-way constraints. Bridge details still to be determined include the bridge height over water, bridge type, and ramp grades and lengths.

Alameda Post - Three preliminary estuary crossing bridge alignments overlaid on identified right-of-way constraints. Map: City of Alameda
Three preliminary Estuary bridge alignments overlaid on identified right-of-way constraints. Map: City of Alameda

In response to Board member Hansom Hom’s inquiry on the status of the Estuary water shuttle, Wheeler revealed that a summertime pilot administered by the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) is still on track for implementation. Funding for a two-year pilot beginning in early 2024 has yet to be secured, and the City is awaiting results of a grant application that would fund 25% of the costs.

Next steps

The PID stage will be followed by the Project Approval & Environmental Design (PAED) phase in 2024, and the Plans, Specifications, and Estimates (PS&E) phase in 2027. Should these phases fall in place, construction of the bridge may begin as early as 2030.

Ken Der is a contributing writer for the Alameda Post. Contact him via [email protected]. His writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Ken-Der.

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