A collaborative blueprint for smart growth in Concord, CA

By Paige Miller

Thanks to feedback from community residents, business owners and environmental organizations, eight square miles of land in Concord, CA, which was slated for sprawling development will instead become home to a vibrant, transit-oriented and walkable neighborhood and protected open space.

photo: Scott Hein

The land in question was formerly the site of the Concord Naval Weapons Station, which closed in 2005. When the base was shuttered, Concord officials made plans to repurpose the site, which is adjacent to an underused transit station. The area includes several brownfield sites as well as stunning tracts of open space.

The City’s original plan was to develop homes in a manner consistent with the past five decades of exurban sprawl. But when word of the plan began to spread to local newspapers, residents North Contra Costa County spoke up.

Rosanne Nieto, Concord resident and co-leader the Concord Naval Weapons Station Neighborhood Alliance. Photo by the Greenbelt Alliance via Flickr.

Nieto and her neighbors say they value the station site’s open space as a community asset for recreation and environmental preservation.

“We raised our hands and said ‘We don’t want you to do that,’” says Rosanne Nieto, who lives near the former weapons station.

In turn, these neighborhood activists caught the attention of local groups, including Greenbelt Alliance, a nonprofit organization that brings stakeholders together to find innovative solutions to the Bay Area’s growth challenges.

Jeremy Madsen, Executive Director of Greenbelt Alliance, says his organization advocated for the city to pursue a smarter development plan for the base. Rather than simply investing in costly sprawl, the city could transform the former Navy base into an economically beneficial and tight-knit neighborhood with plenty of open space and a denser cluster of housing options near the transit line.

Together, Greenbelt Alliance and concerned local residents helped create the Community Coalition for a Sustainable Concord, a broad alliance of housing, labor, faith-based, neighborhood and environmental organizations that asked the city to go back to the drawing board and create a plan that would work for the community, the economy and the environment.

“Collaboration was key,” Madsen says, noting that while the need to involve many groups and voices in the process obviously made the project more complicated, it also meant that the final product was truly representative of what local residents and groups wanted.

“I was thrilled with the collaboration we had with the stakeholders in the community,” said Concord Mayor Ron Leone.

Redevelopment Plan Map. Image from the Redevelopment EIR Addendum via the Concord Community Reuse Project.

It took six years of heavy discussion among the City, Community Coalition for a Sustainable Concord, a broad spectrum of housing advocates, large and small businesses, adjacent cities, local and regional transportation management agencies, and environmental advocacy groups to determine how to best use the site. Finally, on January 24, 2012, the City of Concord approved a plan: the Concord Community Reuse Project.

The new plan designates nearly 70 percent of the area as protected open space- about three times the size of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Developers will cluster new neighborhoods around the nearby North Concord BART station, taking advantage of the largest transit-oriented development opportunity site in the East Bay. Frequent bus service and bicycle lanes will connect these neighborhood clusters, giving residents a host of transportation options to get to and from jobs, shops and schools.

The plan also includes provisions permanently designating 25 percent of the new housing as affordable. Businesses and other amenities are included in the development plan as well.

“We are very excited that the city has embraced a vision for using this exceptionally important location for the type of growth that creates healthier communities and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” says Matt Vander Sluis, Senior Field Representative of Greenbelt Alliance. “This sort of development helps the Bay Area be a leader in fighting climate change and makes it easier for people to live closer to where they work.”

“The City is very proud of its public involvement program and the consensus that was built,” said Michael Wright, Executive Director of Concord’s Local Reuse Authority. “Our Council worked closely with all these interest groups to create a balanced vision for a world class project that will improve the quality of life not only for residents of Concord but for the region as a whole.”

The plan is expected to spur economic development, too, creating new jobs both during and after construction. Specifically, 40 percent of the site’s construction jobs are reserved for local Concord and greater Contra Costa County residents. The complete reuse project will take decades to fully complete, meaning that these jobs and those created in resultant neighborhoods will remain in the community for years to come.

“This plan is remarkable because so many people – from environmentalists, to union workers, to local residents – worked together to create a community blueprint that will strengthen the local economy and improve quality of life,” Madsen says.

This commitment to good planning was recently recognized by the Northern California Chapter of the American Planning Association when they announced that the Concord Reuse Project Area Plan would receive their award of merit for Innovative Green and Sustainable Planning.

“We had so many people in the community that were concerned and came together to work through a process try to figure out what was best for the community,” said Mayor Leone. “The process speaks for itself because they came up with a good plan that will satisfy our needs for the future.”

“This is proof that collaboration pays off, and it makes me hopeful about Concord’s future,” Vander Sluis added.

This article was originally published by Smart Growth America. Link to article

photo: Scott Hein

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