Summary: Review of 100-Room Hotel Development at the Harbor Bay Business Park.
Public Hearing to Consider (1) an Appeal by UNITEHERE! Local 280 Challenging the Planning Board’s Approval of Final Development Plan and Design Review for Construction of a 100-Room Hotel at 2350 Harbor Bay Parkway, (2) Mayor Spencer’s Call for Review of the Planning Board Action, and (3) Adoption of Resolution Documenting the Council Action. (Community Development 481001)
To: Honorable Mayor and Members of the City Council
From: Elizabeth D. Warmerdam, Interim City Manager
Re: Public Hearing to Consider (1) an Appeal by UNITEHERE! Local 280 Challenging the Planning Board’s Approval of Final Development Plan and Design Review for Construction of a 100-Room Hotel at 2350 Harbor Bay Parkway, (2) Mayor Spencer’s Call for Review of Planning Board Action, and (3) Adoption of Resolution Documenting the Council Action
on February 23, 2015, the Planning Board held a public hearing and reviewed the site plan and architectural design of a new 100-room hotel proposed for a vacant parcel located at 2350 Harbor Bay Parkway, in the Harbor Bay Business Park. At the hearing, the Planning Board directed the applicant to make a number of changes to the proposed site plan, landscape and parking plan, and architectural design.
The requested land use entitlements for the development of the site are largely governed by the Development Agreement for the Harbor Bay Business Park. The Development Agreement vests certain development rights for all property owners in the business park. Under the Development Agreement the property owner is allowed to build a hotel and the building may be up to 100 feet in height. Pursuant to the Development Agreement, the City of Alameda's land use discretion is limited to the architectural design of the building ("Design Review") and the location of the building on the site ("Final Development Plan").
On April 13, 2015, the Planning Board held a second public hearing and reviewed the revised plans. At that meeting, the Planning Board indicated that the applicant had satisfactorily addressed all of the site plan and parking issues, but that the architectural design still required additional work. The April Planning Board staff report describing the project and the revisions is attached as Exhibit 1. Soon thereafter, the applicant decided to hire a new architectural firm to improve the architectural design of the building.
On July 13, 2015, the Planning Board held a third public hearing and reviewed a revised architectural design. At that meeting, the Planning Board approved a Final Development Plan and Design Review with conditions. The July staff report is attached as Exhibit 2, and the approved project plans are included as Exhibit 3.
On July 23, 2015, Mayor Spencer formally called the Planning Board decision for review, citing concerns about whether the project met the City’s parking requirements. Also on July 23, 2015, UNITEHERE! Local 2850 filed an appeal of the Planning Board decision. The UNITEHERE! appeal letter is attached as Exhibit 4.
A notice for this hearing was mailed to property owners and residents within 300 feet of the project site, published in the Alameda Journal and posted at the subject property.
DISCUSSION OF CHALLENGES
Parking: Upon calling the Planning Board decision for review, Mayor Spencer indicated that the project's shared parking plan was her major concern. UNITEHERE! identified the parking plan, and issues relating to compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) as its reasons for appealing the Planning Board decision.
The Planning Board must implement the requirements of the Alameda Municipal Code (AMC) when reviewing proposed development projects. The AMC includes a parking ordinance (Section 30-7 Off-Street Parking) that governs the number and location of off-street parking spaces required for each project reviewed by the Planning Board. Section 30-7 includes the following provisions that are relevant to this project:
• The ordinance requires 125 parking spaces for a 100 room hotel.
• The ordinance permits the Planning Board to reduce the number of off-street parking spaces required if there is evidence that the project is providing transportation services such as shuttles that would reduce the demand for 125 spaces.
• The ordinance permits the Planning Board to allow hotel operators to provide some of the required parking spaces through "shared parking agreements". A shared parking agreement is an agreement for the use of an existing parking lot nearby. For example, a hotel has the greatest need for parking at night. An office building has little to no need for parking at night. Therefore, a hotel and office may "share" an existing parking lot. Sharing existing parking lots is good for the natural environment (less impervious surfaces, etc.) and good for the urban environment (better pedestrian environment, etc.).
In this case, the Planning Board's decision is in full compliance with the requirements of Section 30-7 Off-Street Parking. The Planning Board approval requires:
• A total of 125 parking spaces, include 83 parking spaces on the site and 43 spaces off-site in a shared parking lot. The Planning Board resolution requires a signed lease for the 43 off-site shared spaces prior to issuance of a building permit for the property. It should be noted that the hotel will provide valet parking services so that hotel customers will not need to access the off-site parking lot.
• Free on-demand shuttle services for all hotel customers. The shuttle will provide free shuttle service to and from the Oakland Airport, Oakland BART, Harbor Bay Ferry Terminal, Park Street restaurants and entertainment, and all business locations within the Business Park. The on-demand shuttle services will be available from 4:00 am to 1:00 am daily (21 hours per day).
• Free bicycles for guest use.
• Participation in the Harbor Bay Business Park Owner’s Association Transportation Management Program that provides the Harbor Bay Shuttle that serves the site and provides free commute-hour direct connections between the Coliseum BART Station and the Harbor Bay Ferry Terminal.
The Planning Board's decision was further supported by evidence provided at the public hearings that included:
• A study conducted for an existing hotel at 1700 Harbor Bay Parkway that determined that approximately 60% of hotel patronage in the Business Park is generated by visitors doing business with companies located in the Harbor Bay Business Park.
• A parking study prepared by Abrams & Associates Transportation Engineers, attached as Exhibit 5, that determined that with the free shuttle service, and convenient location near the airport and nearby Business Park, the hotel would need only 66 parking spaces.
Since the Planning Board's decision, Mayor Spencer raised concerns with staff about the permanence of a lease agreement for shared parking. Under the condition of approval, it is the applicant's responsibility to maintain a signed agreement for 43 off-site shared spaces. However, in response to the Mayor's concern, the applicant has offered to purchase a 0.45-acre vacant parcel located at 2183 North Loop Road to build a permanent parking lot for the 43 off-street parking spaces. This property is located .26 miles from the main entry to the hotel site.
During the Planning Board review process, staff supported a shared parking agreement for the following reasons:
• All of the evidence indicates that there are plenty of existing parking lots in the Business Park to accommodate additional overflow parking when, and if, it is ever needed.
• From an environmental perspective, sharing existing parking lots is preferable to building additional parking lots.
• From an economic development perspective, buying property for a parking lot eliminates the future opportunity for an additional business and additional jobs opportunities in the Business Park. A parking lot is not the highest and best use for scarce commercial land.
Nevertheless, to address the concern that the applicant might lose the lease at a future date and not be able to acquire a new lease elsewhere in the Business Park, the applicant is willing and able to purchase additional property on North Loop Road for a permanent parking lot.
The City Council may amend the Resolution of Approval to include the following new condition:
Prior to issuance of building permits, the applicant shall purchase property and submit improvement plans for a 43-space parking lot on Lot 29 on North Loop Road. The required improvements to Lot 29 (new paving, landscaping screens, C-3 requirements, etc.) shall be completed prior to issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy for the hotel.
California Environmental Quality Issue - Infill Exemption
California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires that any potential environmental impacts associated with a proposed development are disclosed to the decision makers and the public prior to a decision on the project. CEQA includes a number of "exemptions" which allow for streamlined review of certain types of projects.
Over the last eight years, CEQA has been amended to further streamline the review of urban infill projects. These efforts are largely driven by two statewide concerns:
• With growing emphasis on the inter-related issues of global warming, affordable housing, transportation, and social equity, State laws are being amended to facilitate and encourage urban infill development and reduce and discourage regional urban sprawl.
• There is a growing concern that CEQA is being used by some interest groups, individuals, and organizations to stop or delay urban infill development projects approved by the local jurisdiction. At times the threat of CEQA litigation, which can delay or stop a project, has been used to force the project proponent to make concessions (often negotiated in private) that are beyond the scope of the public planning process. In many cases, these private agreements address matters of economic and social policy and not protection of the natural environment.
Here, the City has properly relied on a categorical exemption (Section 15332), finding this project exempt from environmental review. Section 15332 was added to the CEQA Guidelines in 1998, to promote infill development within urbanized areas. In 2002, section 15332 was challenged in a case called Communities for a Better Environment v. California Resource Agency, 103 Cal.App.4th 98 (2002). The Court upheld the validity of the exemption contained in Section 15332, rejecting the notion that the existence of a more limited “statutory” exemption for infill projects somehow rendered the categorical exemption invalid. Accordingly, in applying this categorical infill exemption, the City followed the requirements of Section 15332.
Further support of the use of categorical exemption is found in Banker’s Hill, Hillcrest, Park West Community Preservation v. City of San Diego, 139 Cal. App. 4th 249 (2006) and Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley, 60 Cal.4th 1086 (2015).
These Court cases have confirmed that a local agency decision to use a CEQA Exemption shall be upheld provided that the decision was supported by substantial evidence on the record and that there are no identified site-specific unusual circumstances which would disqualify the project from use of the specific exemption.
The City of Alameda's planning staff, supported by the technical studies provided by environmental professionals, recommended that the Planning Board find that the project was exempt from further review under CEQA pursuant to Section 15332, the exemption for "urban infill development". The Planning Board's extensive findings in support of the exemption are reproduced below in the Environmental Review section of this report and the Planning Board Resolution of Approval. In summary, the City’s findings are based upon the following substantial evidence that was provided throughout the public planning process and at each of the public hearings and in the written record:
• The project is consistent with the General Plan and Zoning Ordinance.
• The land upon which the project is to be constructed is man-made land. It was created in the 1960's, for the purpose of developing a business park. Unlike most land in California, this land has never provided natural habitat for early Native Americans, California native or endangered wildlife, or prehistoric animals or plant life.
• The property has been extensively surveyed for evidence that the land is being temporarily used by endangered or threatened bird or wildlife species. Those studies have found that the vacant property is not providing habitat for any endangered or threatened species.
• The project does not require any construction, disturbance or temporary structures in the adjacent San Francisco Bay. Therefore no existing or future maritime biological resources or habitat will be affected by the construction or operation of the project.
• The property is located in an existing business park, in an incorporated city, in a major urban metropolitan area. It is surrounded by a man-made urban recreational facility (Shoreline Park), a major arterial roadway (Harbor Bay Parkway), and a business park.
Specific Responses to Challenge
UNITEHERE! makes three arguments why the project does not qualify for the CEQA exemption for urban infill projects.
UNITEHERE! Argument #1: The appellant argues that the project does not meet the standard of “no value as habitat for endangered, rare, or threatened species.”
Staff/Planning Board Response: A habitat assessment and survey of the site by WRA Environmental Consultants, attached as Exhibit 8, concluded that no burrowing owls or other endangered or threatened species are present on the site and that the site provides poor quality habitat for burrowing owls or other endangered or threatened species. The findings are consistent with similar findings made by other biological experts and professionals who have surveyed nearby sites for the recent developments in the Business Park, such as the VF campus, Esplanade Waterfront development and other developments.
Argument #2: The appellant argues that the project site is not “substantially surrounded by urban uses.”
Staff/Planning Board Response: The project site is located within the Harbor Bay Business Park within the City of Alameda, which is at the center of the San Francisco Bay Area metropolitan area. The site is surrounding by a man-made urban park and commercial manufacturing and office uses. The subject property was designed to be, and has always been, part of the urban environment. The land itself was created in the 1960’s, and has never been occupied or surrounded by a non-man-made natural environment.
It is worth noting that arguments similar to those made by UNITEHERE! have been rejected by courts. For instance, in Banker's Hill, Hillcrest, Park West Community Preservation Group v. City of San Diego, a preservation group challenged the use of the infill exemption in Section 15332, claiming that the residential project at issue was not substantially surrounded by urban uses because, even though the project was surrounded by urban buildings to the east, north and west, the corner of Balboa Park would be directly to the south of the project and Balboa Park was not an “urban use.” Thus the project would not qualify for the infill exemption. The court rejected this argument, finding Balboa Park (a 1,200-acre park which includes open space areas, natural vegetation zones, green belts, gardens and walking paths) as an urban use. Here, the notion that the site is adjacent to water does not preclude the City’s ability to properly rely on Section 15332.
Argument #3: The appellant argues that the project is not consistent with applicable General Plan regulations (regarding floor area ratio (FAR)) or with zoning regulations (regarding parking).
Staff/Planning Board Response: As documented in the three Planning Board staff reports and this report, the proposed project is consistent with the General Plan, Zoning Ordinance, and Harbor Bay Industrial Park Development Plan, approved by Planning Board Resolution No. 1203 in 1981, which established the development standards for the Harbor Bay Business Park and this property.
The General Plan and 1989 Development Agreement allow a FAR of between 0.5 and 2.0, depending on the amount of parking enclosed within a structure. The proposed development plan encloses more than 35% of the required parking, resulting in a maximum FAR for this project of 1.02. The proposed FAR is 1.00 (65,762 square feet of building area on a 65,796 square foot site) and, therefore, is consistent with the General Plan regulations for FAR.
As documented in the prior Planning Board reports and this report, the project complies with the City of Alameda parking requirements.
In addition to the project’s conformance to the City’s General Plan, Zoning Ordinance and Harbor Bay Business Park Development Agreement, it is also consistent with the City’s Economic Development Strategic Plan. Strategy #3 encourages development of facilities to serve the business traveler, business conference market and vacationing tourists by attracting quality hotel/conference centers. The Strategy states “Alameda does not have adequate facilities for business-related conferences and events despite the increase in high-tech service sector businesses in the city and the region.” “[A] conference facility and additional rooms for business travelers are needed.”
The proposed hotel, with two meeting rooms, will provide a new commercial resource and benefit for the Harbor Bay Business Park. The business park has a number of office buildings recently developed, currently under construction, or approved for construction, including the Esplanade (Stacy & Witbeck and McGuire & Hester buildings) and VF Outdoor’s “Innovation, Warranty, and Digital Lab” building. Existing businesses have been expanding and leasing additional square footage. With this business growth, the demand for meeting space and hotel rooms continues to grow. The desire for corporate meeting space and business traveler amenities is consistently expressed by businesses meeting with staff as part of its Business Visitation Program.
As noted in the Financial Impact section of the staff report below, the project will generate between $400,000 and $500,000 in Transient Occupancy Tax annually for the General Fund, which will make the project one of the top five commercial business tax generators for the City of Alameda. The hotel will produce a multiplier effect in sales tax revenue with guests spending off-site at local retail stores and restaurants. It will also employ 24 people.
Based upon a review of the proposed project and applicable zoning regulations, staff recommends that the City Council uphold the Planning Board’s approval of the Development Plan and Design Review applications by (1) denying the appeal of UNITEHERE!; (2) ratifying/confirming the Planning Board approval; and (3) adopting the proposed resolution.
Approval of the Final Development Plan and Design Review applications will result in a positive financial impact on the City’s General Fund.
The project is estimated to generate between $400,000 and $500,000 in Transit Occupancy Taxes annually for the General Fund, which will make the project one of the top five commercial business tax generators in the City of Alameda.
The project will fund construction of pedestrian and bicycle pathways and landscape improvements along Harbor Bay Parkway and the Bay Trail for which funds are not currently available in the General Fund.
MUNICIPAL CODE/POLICY DOCUMENT CROSS REFERENCE
General Plan Land Use Element policies support hotel uses within the Harbor Bay Business Park. General Plan Transportation Element policies support transportation design solutions that balance the needs of all modes of transportation, including pedestrian, bicycle, transit, and automobile facilities. The Project is also consistent with the Harbor Bay Isle Development Agreement.
This project is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) pursuant to CEQA Guidelines Section 15332 - Infill Development Projects. The project meets all requirements for the infill exemption, including the following:
a) The project is consistent with the applicable General Plan designation and all applicable General Plan policies as well as with applicable zoning designation and regulations. The proposed project is consistent with the General Plan, Zoning Ordinance, and Harbor Bay Industrial Park Development Plan, approved by Planning Board Resolution No. 1203 in 1981, which establish the development standards for the Harbor Bay Business Park and this property.
b) The proposed development occurs within city limits on a project site of no more than five acres substantially surrounded by urban uses. The project site is less than two acres in size and is located within the Harbor Bay Business Park within the City of Alameda, which is at the center of the San Francisco Bay Area metropolitan area. The site is surrounding by a man-made urban park and commercial manufacturing and office uses. The subject property was designed to be, and has always been, part of the urban environment. The land itself was created in the mid-20th century to be a business park and be part of the City of Alameda. The site has never been part of the original natural environment.
c) The project site has no value as habitat for endangered, rare or threatened species. The small parcel for the proposed development is currently vacant and it has no habitat value for any endangered, rare, or threatened wildlife species. The vacant lot is immediately adjacent to the Harbor Bay Parkway. The proposed project will not require any work within the San Francisco Bay. A habitat assessment and survey of burrowing owls conducted by WRA Environmental Consultants concluded that no burrowing owls are present on the site and that the site provides poor quality habitat for burrowing owls. The findings are consistent with similar findings made by other biological experts and professionals who have surveyed nearby sites for the recent developments in the Business Park, such as the VF campus, Esplanade Waterfront development and other developments.
d) Approval of the project would not result in any significant effects relating to traffic, noise, air navigation, air quality or water quality.
Traffic: The project will not result in any significant transportation impacts. The Abrams & Associates traffic study concluded that there would not be impacts from a 105-room hotel that would generate approximately 61 AM peak hour and 65 PM peak hour trips. With the reduction to 100 rooms, the addition of on-demand shuttle services, bicycle services and off-site improvements funded through business park Transportation Improvement Fund (TIF), the project will not result in any significant traffic impacts.
Pursuant to the Harbor Bay Development Agreement, a portion of the property taxes and building permit fees from this project will fund the TIF. The purpose of the TIF is to fund transportation and signal improvements in the Business Park. A signal will be necessary in the near future at the currently impacted intersection of Harbor Bay Parkway and North Loop Road. The unsignalized intersection currently operates at an unacceptable level of service during peak hours. Per the Development Agreement and the Infrastructure Agreement for the Business Park, the necessary traffic signal improvements will be funded by the TIF.
The project is located within the Airport Safety Zone of the Oakland Airport and triggers the review of both the ALUC and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The ALUC deemed the project consistent with airport land use regulations upon the FAA issuing a Determination of No Hazard to Air Navigation for the proposed location and maximum building height (Exhibit 6). The FAA has determined in its letter dated October 1, 2014, that the project will not pose a hazard to air navigation at the Oakland International Airport or in Bay Area airspace (Exhibit 7). The project, as conditioned, will comply with all regulatory requirements pertaining to airport safety.
Noise: The proposed construction and operation of the hotel in the Business Park will not result in any significant noise impacts. The site is immediately adjacent to an active airport that generates significant noise in the area. The construction and operation of the hotel will be subject to the restrictions and requirements of the City of Alameda Noise Ordinance which ensures that no significant noise impacts are generated on-site by the hotel that would impact the adjacent parcels as the result of the hotel construction or operation.
Because the Oakland International Airport creates significant noise in the Business Park and on the subject property, the hotel is designed to shield the occupants of the hotel from Oakland Airport noise. Noise levels within the hotel will be attenuated to 45 dB CNEL. A standard condition of approval for all development in the Harbor Bay Business Park is for the applicant to submit an acoustical noise study with the building permit application to demonstrate that interior noise levels can be attenuated to less than 45 dB. Furthermore, new construction must comply with State of California Title 24, Part 2 of the Administrative Code, which will typically attenuate interior noise levels to less than 45 dB. Therefore, the project occupants will not experience any adverse noise effects from airport operations.
Air Quality and Water Quality: Construction and operation of the hotel will be subject to standard construction requirements of the City of Alameda, Regional Water Quality Board, and Regional Air Quality Board. These standards and permit requirements are specifically designed to ensure that urban infill projects do not result in air or water quality impacts to the environment. In addition, the landscape design and plant list for the proposal includes a mix of trees, shrubs, grasses, and other low-lying ground cover vegetation that is consistent with state and regional water quality requirements and Bay Friendly Landscaping Guidelines.
e) The site can be adequately served by all required utilities and public services. The project site is located within an urban business park that already has the basic water, sewer, and other utility infrastructure necessary to support the proposed hotel. The site has access to all other public services provided by the City.
Hold a public hearing to consider (1) an appeal by UNITEHERE! Local 280 challenging the Planning Board’s approval of final development plan and design review for construction of a 100-Room Hotel at 2350 Harbor Bay Parkway, (2) Mayor Spencer’s Call for Review of the Planning Board Action, and (3) Adoption of Resolution Documenting the Council Action.
Debbie Potter, Community Development Director
Andrew Thomas, Assistant Community Development Director
1. April 13, 2015 Planning Board staff report
2. July 23, 2015 Planning Board staff report
3. Marriott Fairfield Inn Alameda Design Review Package prepared by SB Architects and dated July 2, 2015.
4. Petition for Appeal
5. Abrams & Associates, Trip Generation and Parking Letter, October 21, 2014
6. Letter from ALUC dated October 6, 2014
7. Letter from FAA dated October 1, 2014
8. WRA Environmental Consultants, Burrowing Owl Habitat Assessment/Survey, January 7, 2015