Concord leaders approve plan for former military base

Tanya Rose

Concord maps future of weapons station

CONCORD — Concord leaders on Monday night unanimously approved a plan for the mothballed Concord Naval Weapons Station that includes intense development near BART, “greenways” that would connect people to a sprawling college campus and three small residential villages framed by manicured parks.

The “clustered villages” concept calls for 28,900 people and 12,300 housing units, with about 64 percent of the land set aside as open space.

A final plan, however, is still years away.

The northwest tip of the weapons station property, near the North Concord/Martinez BART station, would host taller buildings with retail and commercial uses at street level and residential units on top floors. Ideally, people living there would be working in nearby office complexes, or going to classes at a 150-acre branch campus of Cal State East Bay.

Environmentalists have called this “smart growth” because people would live near a major transportation hub, depending less on their cars. And such plans, they add, leave more land available for parks and open space.

An alternative proposal the council did not approve, the “concentration and conservation plan,” called for more open space. But that plan has no small villages, or their own schools and miniature retail hubs, as come with the “clustered villages” plan.

Reuse director Mike Wright said the “clustered villages” plan encourages greater bus access through a more thoughtful circulation plan and makes it easier for current Concord residents to get to planned regional draws such as a sports complex and vast open space and recreation.

“People need to realize we still have a long way to go — we’re not even at the 50-yard line yet,” said Mayor Laura Hoffmeister, referring to future environmental studies done by both the city and the Navy.

The city is expected to approve its final plan and environmental study in spring of 2009, and the Navy could sell the land to developers for about $1.4 billion, or dispose of the base some other way, by spring of 2010 at the earliest.

Council members also agreed Monday that future developers will have to put $38 million toward measures to help the homeless, including construction of transitional and other affordable housing and employment and other service programs.

Councilwoman Helen Allen voted against the homeless accommodation.

“If we put this burden on the developers, who will they pass it on to? Other homebuyers,” Allen said. “I just think $38 million is overwhelming.”

She did, however, vote for the clustered villages concept, despite urging the council at earlier meetings to sack that plan in favor of something that better mirrors what Concord residents are used to — single-family homes spread out over larger swaths of land.

“I am being benevolent here,” she said. “Politics is a compromise and I’m not happy, but I’m willing to compromise to meet the (federal) requirements,” she said of a January deadline imposed on the city by the Navy.

Most of the clustered villages plan had been hammered out at earlier planning meetings, but some tweaks were made Monday. Among them, the council agreed that park space surrounding the three clustered villages should be a tad bigger, and that park land near a proposed sports complex should be able to house soccer fields and the like. City leaders also supported a “greenway” hosting a trail connecting BART and the college campus and going beyond into the hills. The greenway would be about 140 feet wide at its narrowest point, and 350 feet at its widest.

Also, Councilmen Guy Bjerke and Mark Peterson said they favor an ice rink and perhaps a swimming pool on the base property, and Peterson wants the proposed sports park larger than the earmarked 75 acres. He is also pushing for a large hotel somewhere close to the golf course north of Highway 4.

Not everyone was happy with the plans. Resident Edi Birsan thinks the development would be too dense, and especially opposed the three villages.

“We might as well call them ‘Lennar,’ ‘Shaw,’ and ‘Seeno,'” he said, referring to the area’s major developers. “We have a long history of nibbling away at our open space.”

Christina Wong of the Greenbelt Alliance said the plan is a model for smart growth development, but that creating a regional park will only happen if the community stays involved. She and other environmentalists have pushed the city to designate the East Bay Regional Parks District as manager of all the open space, but the council on Monday stopped short of doing that.

“I’d just like to see more of their plans,” Peterson said of the park district.

Other residents expressed worries about the traffic impacts on streets and freeways.

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