Council okays demolition of Buena Vista home
In an emotional hearing that pitted Park Street businesses against preservationists and nearby residents, the city council okayed the demolition of a home on Buena Vista Avenue whose owner plans to use it for parking for a planned retail development.
Doug deHaan was the lone council member to oppose the plan.
The owner, Bill Phua, must continue his efforts to get someone to move the home to another spot and cannot demolish the building until a building permit for his proposed development is issued. He said he hopes to pull building permits in six months.
Phua had asked the city’s Historical Advisory Board to take the home, an 1890 Queen Anne cottage, off the city’s historic study list and to allow him to demolish the home for parking for a retail development he wants to build on the site of the former Cavanaugh Motors – a project that is seen by some as a key to kick-starting efforts to redevelop the city’s former auto row, north of Lincoln Avenue. The board demurred, questioning whether removing the home for economic reasons was within their purview.
Residents of the adjacent Wedgewood neighborhood who were among the 19 speakers on the home’s fate questioned whether the parking was needed and also the cost assumptions Phua’s consultants made in researching restoration of the home as part of an earlier business plan. And they said the demolition could lead to the loss of more old homes in the future.
“The message is that it’s okay to bulldoze over our homes and our families” as the redevelopment moves forward, Wedgewood resident Melanie Wartenburg said.
Members of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society, who have supported the redevelopment project, asked the council to require Phua to wait on demolishing the home until he gets a building permit for his retail project. They also asked that Phua continue his efforts to move the home.
Speakers also referenced some fledgling efforts to move the home to the former Island High site. Acting City Manager David Brandt said that city officials had talked to the folks over at the school district, which owns the property, and were told the home would have to integrate into a larger project.
But business owners said parking is a key ingredient of the city’s revitalization plans for the city’s now-defunct auto row. The lot where the home stands could hold 17 of the 50 spaces required for the proposed development, city staff said.
“This house stands in the way of this project moving forward,” Debbie George, president of the Park Street Business Association, said.
And Phua, who has offered the home for free on Craigslist, said he can’t wait much longer to proceed with his plan.
“I have no objection to giving the house away. But can we give it away in a reasonable amount of time?” Phua asked the council.
Council members said they want to preserve Alameda’s old and historic houses, but that they felt that moving forward on the North of Lincoln plan outweighed what they feared could be unsuccessful efforts to have the home restored.
“I have absolutely no doubt that this house can be restored. But you’ve got to have somebody to love the house to do that,” Councilmember Marie Gilmore said.
Council members also said they feel the city’s process, which requires review by the Historical Advisory Board before demolishing a home built before 1942, allows the city to examine demolitions on a case-by-case basis. (One speaker said that this would be the first such demolition in Alameda in the 21st century.)
“The system is set up so each property has its hearing,” Councilmember Frank Matarrese said. “The fact that we have a study process recognizes that each case is unique.”