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February 4, 2009 > Masonic Homes' Flatlands Project

Masonic Homes' Flatlands Project

By Simon Wong

The Masonic Homes of California, atop Union City's protected Hillside Area, presented its Flatlands Project to the City's Council and Planning Commission at a Special Meeting and Joint Study Session on January 28, 2009.

The Masonic Homes of California is a 501(c)(3) non-profit administering three programs, viz. Masonic Homes of California, which has residential campuses for adults in Union City and Covina, Masonic Outreach Services, which enable elderly members to remain in their own homes and communities, and the Children's Program based in Covina. The organization is non-denominational and dedicated to meeting the needs of California Master Masons, their wives, widows and, under certain extraordinary circumstances, mothers.

"We [the Union City campus] are a senior living community that provides very high quality care. We have a full continuum starting with independent living and offer increasing levels of care with assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing," explained John Howl, VP Strategic Development, Masonic Homes of California. "About a year ago, construction began on an expansion program called Acacia Creek which is progressing well; we expect to welcome new, independent seniors at the end of this year or in January 2010. We also have a state-wide outreach program, just as many other quality organizations do, to deliver services direct to seniors, children and families in their own homes."

Masonic Homes of California owns three hundred acres of the Hillside and flatlands east of Mission Boulevard. The Flatlands Project entails development of sixty-three acres of the flatlands at the base of the Hillside, between Whipple Road-May Road and O'Connell Lane, to provide amenities for both the Masons and Union City residents. These are intended to generate revenue that will support the Masons' philanthropic endeavors serving youth and seniors and benefit the Union City community.

At this stage, the Project plans are largely conceptual. The Special Meeting allowed the Project Team to engage with City Staff, elected officials and some members of the public to obtain input and feedback and begin the outreach process to the wider community.

The flatlands to be developed consist of three parcels: A (29.5 acres), B (1.5 acres and 12 acres) and C (20 acres) with a combined frontage of almost a mile. There are opportunities and constraints for development. Close proximity to BART and bus routes are attractive but the presence of the Hayward Fault necessitates identification of setback zones. The developable portions must remain outside these zones.

The intent is to preserve the views of the Hillside both from the Decoto area and from Mission Boulevard itself directly on to the Masonic Homes. Retention of the visual connection between the western and eastern sides of Mission Blvd, which Councillor Fernandez fears might become divisive once the development is completed, is important. Any physical connection, such as an overpass, would involve discussion with Caltrans.

"These concepts set up design principles that any future development must follow," said Gerry Tierney, Senior Associate, Perkins & Will.

To maintain the viewshed from the Decoto area, the new development will not include a sound wall. Noise reduction will be achieved by insulation in the buildings and double- or triple-glazing. The buildings will face Mission Blvd and beyond.

"When we examine the current pedestrian experience along Mission Blvd between Holly and Whipple, pedestrians are sandwiched between a sound wall and a six-lane thoroughfare. Maybe, a parallel pedestrian pathway or trail through the proposed site from O'Connell to May would make the experience more pleasant?" he added.

CBRE Consulting has identified residential and retail as the highest and best use of the land.

Parcel A will contain a mix of town homes at a density of twenty-five units per acre with 50,000-150,000 of retail space. Parcel B would accommodate residential units, a community facility and open space. It is envisaged that Parcel C will be for senior housing, which will be open to Masons and members of the Union City community.

"Research shows that people do not want to move far from their former homes to senior accommodation, so it is hoped that the development will prove popular with local residents. The Masons wish to retain ownership of the land except for Parcel A; the Masonic Homes would grant ground leases for the other sites, to generate revenue, which partly dictates the type of housing that might appear," said Lynn Sedway, Executive Managing Director, CBRE Consulting.

Office development and industrial, R&D and flex space are identified as unsuitable. There is a lack of demand for office space in this area and there are existing industrial nodes in Union City that can be maximized for industrial use. Moreover, such developments would connect poorly to and spoil the views of the Hillside.

Everyone supported the idea of a pedestrian pathway, preservation of the linear viewshed from the Decoto area and landscaping along Mission Boulevard. Whilst Mayor Green favors an aquatic complex as a community facility at Decoto and Mission, Councillor Valle would like to see a 45,000 sq. ft. library with an adjacent educational nature center. Additionally, community member Barry Ferrier suggested creation of a park as part of such a center and vehicular access further up the Hillside for the view. Councillor Navarro asked the Project Team to engage with Newhaven Unified School District which discussed the possibility of a facility on the flatlands a decade ago.

"The size of any community amenity will depend on what is finally agreed. Right now, we expect that it would be located on Parcel B within which there is a smaller 1.5 acre parcel," stated Wendy Hoyt, VP, The Hoyt Company which is conducting the public outreach on behalf of the Masonic Homes of California.

Critically, what ultimately appears on the flatlands is subject to voter approval. Former Councillor Robert Garfinkle chaired the successful Measure II campaign to prevent changes to the General Plan's Hillside Area Plan, which protects the Hillside from environmentally-destructive development, without a public debate and majority vote of Union City residents. Under Measure II, which passed in November 1996, the flatlands to be developed are part of the protected Hillside Area. Voter approval is likely to be sought in 2010.

"Given the proximity to the Hayward Fault, it would give me great peace of mind if there might be a requirement that members of home owners' associations receive CERT training," stated Vice-Mayor Carol Dutra-Vernaci. Although there is no legal requirement for the project to produce an Environmental Impact Report, the Masonic Homes has elected to commission one.

"It would be easier to solicit the community's support if we all know that you will not want to use tax payers' money, Redevelopment Agency money or City funds," stated Councillor Valle.

"We need to work together to find a feasible solution for the community that makes financial and market sense. If you wish to move away from that premise, say require more infrastructure, then it could be problematic. It isn't that we start off anticipating that but we need to be sure that we work together so that what you want works financially," replied Lynn Sedway.

Poor drainage on Parcel B resulted in flooding in 1998/9 and will be addressed with a thorough soil and geo-tech analysis. On-site, storm water management systems will be analysed.

"This development needs to be able to pay for the provision of City services. Generally-speaking, residential uses are a net drain on City services. I would ask that you consider how this community will provide resources to support the services supplied to it. There is also development on the other side of Mission Blvd, between Whipple Road and Decoto Road. It is important to take these and your development into account to ensure integration," concluded City Manager Larry Cheeves.

Two identical open house meetings will be held on Tuesday, February 17 at New Haven Adult School, 600 G Street, Union City and on Wednesday, February 18 at the Masonic Homes of California, 34400 Mission Boulevard, Union City.

For more information, visit and Union City's Hillside Area Plan can be viewed at

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