The following is a short history of development on Albany Hill. For more on the geology of the hill, Native American and early European American history, as well as the present-day status of the hill check out the Wikipedia page on Albany Hill.
Citizens Protest Destruction and Development of Albany Hill
Since the 1940’s citizens of Albany have fought to preserve the hill. In 1942 the mayor of Albany made an agreement with a contractor to remove part of the hill to use as ballast or fill for wartime activities. Albany Hill property owners nullified the agreement.
But in the same year C. Dudley De Velbiss started to excavate part of the northwest side of the hill without a city permit. He got a limited permit later and starting excavating again, but was stopped by angry citizens. The city issued a short term extension for his work to allow him to blast and clean up his mess, which resulted in damage to some homes on the hill.
In 1948 PG&E wanted to place a 17 million-cubic-foot storage tank on the west slope of the hill.It would have extended about 40 feet above the crest. The company withdrew its project after citizens protested at meetings and presented a petition with 2,000 signatures to the city council.
More proposals surfaced in 1953. C. H. Eccleston, a realtor and president of the Albany Hill Improvement Association, wanted to remove 200 ft from the top of the hill to build 300 homes. Citizens promptly stopped this scheme.
Also in 1953 EBMUD presented the city with a plan to put a 7.7 million-gallon water reservoir on the hill. The plan involved cutting off 111 feet of the hill in order to excavate a 1,200-foot-long, 450-ft-wide, and 30-ft-deep reservoir. Citizens objected and the city rejected this proposal.
Several developers came up with ideas for high-rise hotels or motels after 1956. The city approved one hotel project by American Motors after rezoning land on the hill for hotel status. The project called for a luxury motel on the top of the hill with 527 units, a convention center, coffee shop, three bars, and a swimming pool. Citizen again objected and the project was never built.
Another grand scheme arrived in 1961, when the Golden Gate Heights Corporation obtained a use permit from the city to build a 12-story apartment building and a luxury motor lodge next to the Eastshore Highway and a large hotel on the top of the hill. The development was met with citizen opposition and one of the developers went bankrupt.
High-rise development did not occur on the west side of the hill until the 1970’s. In 1972 Interstate General Development, Inc. (IGD) received approval from the city to build several high-rise towers at the base of the west slope of the hill, while keeping about 10 acres behind the development as permanent open space and donating another $600,000 worth of land as an addition to the city park on top.
Citizens tried to stop the development as soon as IGD indicated it would submit an application for development, but were unsuccessful. A group of nine citizens affiliated with Friends of Albany Hill did manage to win a settlement against Councilman Hubert “Red” Call in a case that involved IGD land.
Construction of the Phase 1 Gateview towers began in 1973 and after completion in 1976 there were seven towers between 6 and 17 stories high.
The Albany city council approved IGD’s Phase II, later known as the Bridgewater complex, in 1977. The plan was to build four towers of 19-20 stories just north of the Gateview towers, but the passage of Measure D in 1978, which decreased the allowable density on the hill, and lawsuits involving defective construction in Phase I (Gateview), altered plans for the project. When Bridgewater was completed in 1986, it consisted of three interconnected buildings four stories high.
The last large-scale construction on the west side of Albany Hill started in 1986 in the area north of Bridgewater and south of Cerrito Creek. IGD and Intermark Design Group partnered to build another complex, but IGD withdrew after a lack of investment capital, partly resulting from the tighter construction requirements dictated after the lawsuits from Gateview owners. Intermark finished the complex known as Bayside Commons in 1987, with two three-story buildings and two four-story buildings.
Meanwhile on the east side of the hill, other development plans had been brewing in the 1970’s and 1980’s. A series of developers hatched plans for building on the steep land between Taft and Jackson Street, including Roy Hedgpeth and Bay Pacific Investments. The city approved construction of 47 units for Bay Pacific, but high interest rates stalled their plans and the permit expired in 1984. Friends of Albany Hill opposed these development plans.
But four years later, in 1988, Bay Pacific came back with another plan for the land. Citizens to Protect Albany Hill demanded that the developer compile another environmental impact report because of concerns about heavy concentrated traffic and adverse effects on plants and animals on the hill. The developer backed out of its plans.
Another group of investors, the Landvest Fund, tried to build 37 units on the same tract of land in 1989, but residents opposed it and the city council withdrew approval and the permit for the project on the grounds that it didn’t meet building and permit requirements. The fund sued the city, but the suit was dismissed in 1992.
Bay Pacific investors again came up with a plan to build 50 units on the same parcel in 1992 and again residents objected. This time the city passed an “Interim Urgency Ordinance” to stop development on Albany Hill for 45 days while they revisited standards and requirements of construction on the hill.
Voters of Albany took the steam out of any further development on the east side of the hill when they passed Measure K in 1994. This measure downzoned residential units per acre in the Hillside District (between Hillside Ave. and Jackson St.) from 12 to 6 in low-density portions and from 18 to 9 in high-density parts of the district. Leon Rimov, an architect and resident of the Hillside District, sued the city, alleging that the measure didn’t have an environmental impact study and was advanced to decrease land values on the hill in anticipation of funds to purchase property from passage of Proposition 180, the California Parks and Wildlife Bond Act, which did not pass. Rimov lost the suit.
Lee, Warren F. and Catherine T. 2000. A Selective History of the Codornices-University Village, The City of Albany & Environs. Belvedere Delaware Railroad Company Enterprises, Ltd.