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November 15, 2011 > Letter to the editor: Save our neighborhood, save our city

Letter to the editor: Save our neighborhood, save our city

On Saturday, October 29, 2011, we and other members of the Mission Hills Tennis Club received a letter from the owner, Sheena Chang, stating that the club would be closed indefinitely starting November 1st for renovations. This came as a great shock to the club members, club staff, the junior tennis program, and the whole community. The unexpected closing of the club, on a few days notice, happened right in the middle of the USTA tennis season, and left team captains and players scrambling to find alternate locations for the remaining matches.

While it was inconsiderate of the ownership to not consult club membership and give more warning, the trouble and hardship it has caused the long-term staff and junior tennis program is much greater. The outstanding junior program, run by Tompkins Tennis, attracts nationally ranked juniors from around the Bay Area. Tompkins Tennis had to scramble to relocate the program to an alternate site with only a few days notice. We contacted Sheena Chang about the timeframe and nature of the renovations, but she only stated that she plans to submit an application for a remodel/expansion to the city, but gave no further information. The future of this beautiful club, with a history of 35 years of continuous operation, and the surrounding open space known as Kimber Park, seems now to be in question.

The story of what has happened to this club is just a small chapter in the saga of Ms. Chang's quest to develop the Kimber Park open space and pave pristine rolling oaks and redwoods with concrete and unnecessary homes. The first red flag can be traced back to the original purchase of the property in 2004 by Ms. Chang, when she paid $6.2M for a club and open space that was valued at only $1.9M (In 1997, a previous owner purchased it for $1.1M; improvements of $.7K were completed in 1999). The $4.3M premium clearly indicates Ms Chang's intention to develop the property, since it would be difficult to generate a profit at this price with the legally permitted use. However, no development rights exist on the property. It is zoned as Private Open Space with recreational purposes.

It has been evident for a long time that the ownership has no intention of allowing the club to thrive as it once did. On the contrary, under her management we have witnessed a noticeable deterioration, starting with reduced services such as elimination of child care, poor maintenance of the facilities and buildings, and allowing blight of the landscape, seemingly all in an attempt to deter new members and drive off current members. In fact, a 6' high chain link fence has been erected around the entire park, creating an eyesore.

Is this all a ploy to rationalize the owner's need to build homes on open space and convince the City that the land must be developed to prevent further blight? We are afraid the owner is attempting to use the land entrusted to her to manipulate the City Staff, Planning Commissioners and City Council.

The fact that the future of Kimber Park was settled 40 years ago in an agreement between the original developers and the City, and with the force of law, has not deterred Sheena Chang and her Mission Hills LLC from trying to change the rules of the game. How fair is it to acquire land way below what the market value would be if it were intended to be developed, then try to change the law and make a disproportionate profit at the expense of Fremont residents and our open space?

The land Ms. Chang and her LLC bought had restrictions on its usage and she should abide by these restrictions. If Ms. Chang is allowed to change the zoning and deed restrictions of the property to her sole benefit, even at the expense of the community at large, should not all of us be allowed to rezone our residential properties to maximize the value by building apartments, convenience stores or gas stations? Many of us have lost equity in our homes during the ongoing housing crisis, and would like to be bailed out by a change of zoning. Of course, we are not allowed to, because it would be unlawful and would destroy the original design and purpose of our neighborhoods. When any of us buys land, we must abide by the laws and restrictions that govern its usage. Our neighborhoods should not have to pay the price of losing precious open space, because the owner thinks she can manipulate the system to her sole personal advantage.

As Fremont residents for the past 12 years, we are appalled that this pristine natural area is even remotely being considered for development. The original development agreement from 1976 clearly states that it is intended to remain protected and private open space with no residential development, that it would forever be preserved as private open space with recreational uses. Furthermore, city staff agrees, as does the Fremont City Planning Commission, that Kimber Park should remain as it was zoned.

If Ms. Chang is successful in her efforts to rezone and develop this property, serious concerns would surface about whose interests the government is really serving. Our city officials must weigh the wishes of many Fremont residents, which the law is meant to protect, over the outlandish ambitions of a real estate speculator.

Our voices are loud and united - enforce the law for our community and keep the once and forever designated open space for Fremont!

Dr. Bruce & Rita McGaughy

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