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October 28, 2009 > Masonic Homes' Flatlands Project continues

Masonic Homes' Flatlands Project continues

By Shavon Walker

Supporters and opponents of the Masonic Homes Flatlands Project along Mission Boulevard, between May Road and O'Connell Lane, attended a detailed discussion at a study session of Union City's Planning Commission on October 15.

Project Planner Nancy Hutar noted current General Plan policies do not anticipate development on the project site because the site is covered by the Hillside Area Plan. Any changes to the latter must be approved by the voters. Boundary changes, subject to voter approval, to exclude the project site would enable the Masonic Homes of California to develop the land for residential and commercial uses. The site would then be subject to General Plan policies some of which are not dissimilar to those of the Hillside Area Plan.

Although the Hillside Area Plan does not currently allow development on the site, it stipulates any development must not be visible from any residential area in the City and limits residential density to three units per acre. Other parts of the Hillside Area Plan are, however, compatible with the project. They deal with uses such as open space, trails, preservation, MUNI services, recreation, emergency access, safety, geology, hydrology and historic preservation. These policies are similar to those embodied in the General Plan.

The Masons would like to set aside a special section of the Land Use Element for the flatlands. It would contain policies specific to that area. A Masonic Homes project team has identified two goals with corresponding policies. The first addresses the development of the flatlands site; the second discusses how Mission Boulevard could be enhanced by development.

The first goal would focus on retaining visual connections between existing neighborhoods, the hillside and the Masonic Homes building. The historical integrity of the Meyers Cottage and estate would be respected. May Road would maintain its rural quality. The project would include pedestrian and bike connections. Integrated development and agricultural use would also be included as would retail and 85 percent upscale housing. Masonic Homes wishes to create a design that is varied and compatible with its surroundings. Most importantly, they would like to maximize community benefits.

The second goal is to create strong connections between the flatlands and other areas of the City. Buildings would be set back from Mission Boulevard with parking towards the rear of the buildings and substantial streetscape and landscape improvements along the frontage. Points of entry to the development would be enhanced, partly with the use of archway-styles that are environmentally friendly and efficient. Traffic speeds would slow along Mission itself. Open development would be mandatory, as opposed to development enclosed by walls. The main intersections would be improved for pedestrian and bicycle safety and access. Decoto Road would also be enhanced since it would be the primary connection from the flatlands to the Intermodal Station for pedestrians and cyclists.

Economic & Community Development Director Joan Malloy noted this is only the beginning of the discussion. The Council's concerns about implementation would be addressed as the discussion progresses. Other policies could be added to the goals later. These would cover any site-specific characteristics not covered by the General Plan and would be part of the special section of the Land Use Element. Others suggested facades could be sued to maintain the historical nature of the area.

Hugh McNamara, Ken Nimmler and Ron Standifer all spoke about the Flatlands Project. The prospect of slower traffic on Mission Boulevard was well received and it was suggested that the street signs be more reflective.

The Planning Commission recommended that Masonic Homes designate the current "agricultural" area as "open space" instead. This would allow more flexibility with the flatlands instead of restricting their options; the designation is also preferable due to the site's proximity to Mission Boulevard. The Council will consider the Planning Commission's proposal and General Plan policies by June or July next year. If the ballot measure passes on November 2, 2010, the changes will take effect.

For more information, visit www.unioncity.org or contact Nancy Hutar on (510) 675-5318 or by email at mhflatlands@unioncity.org. Comments may be sent to the same email address or mailed to Nancy Hutar, Project Planner, Planning Division - City Hall, 34009 Alvarado-Niles Road, Union City, California 94587. For more about the opposition to the Flatlands Project, visit www.saveunioncityhills.com

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