The Alameda City Council put on hold Tuesday
a  proposed 589-unit Encinal Terminals project
on the Northern Waterfront.

In a city that has long resisted meeting minimum state standards for the creation of new housing, the Alameda Council Tuesday night denied a 589-unit waterfront housing and retail development, at least, for the time being.

A portion of the development, which at 14 stories would be the tallest building in Alameda, also includes 79 affordable housing units for low-to-moderate incomes.

But the council returned the proposal back to the developer, Tim Lewis Communities, and city administration for revisions. Some councilmembers, though, questioned whether the proposal, named Encinal Terminals, was actually too ambitious for its own good and whether the city will receive a fair share of the profits.

For a five-person council that has been consistently split on housing issues, the inclusion of a Public Land Trust swap within the deal made the project’s chance already appear slim going into Tuesday night. The land swap, by law, requires a supermajority of support from the council (four of five votes). An actual vote on the development agreement was not made, although, the council approved, 4-1, an Environmental Impact Report for the property.

As with other housing discussions, Alameda Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer and Councilmember Frank Matarrese opposed the development deal. Matarrese called for the entire deal to be reset. “I don’t believe it is buildable,” he said. Matarrese later questioned whether the offer, absent a financial analysis, might in fact create a windfall for the developer over that of the city.

Somewhat surprisingly, progressive Councilmembers Malia Vella and Jim Oddie, also voiced a combination of skepticism toward the project, while also noting the city’s inability to keep up with housing demands.

“Are we getting our fair share?” said Oddie, who voiced consternation over the pace of other recently approved housing developments in Alameda. Oddie noted a pattern: “We get promises. It excites advocates and council, and the promises are not fulfilled,” he said. “I want some confidence in doing a deal with someone and knowing it gets built.”

Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, a likely candidate for mayor next year, said the proposed project would not begin to solve all of the city’s housing problems, but “it is guaranteed beyond all certainty if we do nothing,” she said of Tuesday’s discussion. Ezzy Ashcraft warned turning down the project and $1 million in downpayment assistance for first-time buyers being offered would be shortsighted.

As with previous housing-related hearings, some Alameda residents who fear new construction will further congest the island city’s clogged roads, voiced displeasure with the plan. However, Alameda Chief Planner Andrew Thomas reiterated several times during Tuesday night’s meeting that the existence of 589 housing units at the vacant property near Clement Avenue is mandated by the state and will not be affected by the council’s decision on the specific Encinal Terminals plan.

“It’s only thing with great certainty that will not change,” said Thomas. On the issue of increased traffic due to the proposed development, Thomas agreed there would be impacts simply because the property is currently empty and devoid of cars.

Spencer, who was the lone vote against the EIR, repeatedly attempted to poke holes in the Encinal Terminals plan. At one point arguing the property was at risk for liquefaction, although the issue had not been previously raised. “We are putting people in an unsafe place,” claimed Spencer.

This particular project is complicated by a 6.4-acre patch of land entrusted to the city that is located at the center of the proposed waterfront development. In exchange for the land, the developer would expand the Public Trust Lands by 7 acres at no cost.