Pittsburg, developer looking into land trade

Paul Burgarino

In sports, both teams looking to trade players hope the transaction makes them better. Similarly, Pittsburg and a prominent local homebuilder are looking into the benefits of a possible land trade.

Earlier this month, city leaders entered into a 36-month exclusive negotiating rights agreement with Albert Seeno III’s Discovery Builders for 422 acres at Delta View Golf Course and Stoneman Park. Seeno is looking into the merits of building an executive-style, single-family residential development at the golf course.

Seeno has indicated a willingness to provide comparable vacant property in the hills to Pittsburg’s southwest that could be swapped as part of an agreement, City Manager Marc Grisham said. The lot-for-lot exchange could provide open space in the Faria-Costa hills south of the San Marco and Vista Del Mar developments that could “saddle up” next to proposed open space planned in development of Concord Naval Weapons Station land, he said.

The hope, Grisham said, is a quality community of executive and market-rate homes could one day be built around the golf course while the scenic hillside land could be preserved. Further, Pittsburg does not have a golf-course type community, he said, adding the project could enhance the course’s value and usage.

Officials with Discovery Builders involved with the process could not be reached for comment. The developer is working on project plans, Grisham said.

The existing property— once part of Camp Stoneman — was given to Pittsburg by the federal government for open space purposes. Stoneman Park has limited public access, but some trails and hiking.

Some regional environmental groups such as Greenbelt Alliance say the swap would be a bad deal for Pittsburg residents. Christina Wong, East Bay field representative for the group, said the city land is permanent open space and should be preserved rather than be “used as a bargaining chip.”

“It’s a bad deal for Pittsburg residents. It’s at the public’s expense rather than the public benefit,” she said.

Before development could occur, other vacant property has to be identified by Pittsburg and the deal has to be approved by the Department of the Interior.

Pittsburg wants to get back at least the same amount of land in the southwest hills, Pittsburg Mayor Nancy Parent said.

The city could get more land back in return because the land in the hills is zoned for three units per acre, while the golf course development would be closer to five to seven per acre, Grisham said.

Proposed guidelines for building on Pittsburg’s southwest hills and its high ridgelines were a major issue for city planners and local and regional environmental groups in 2007 and early 2008.

In May, city leaders suspended creation of the criteria because implementation would entail a costly environmental review that would strain city funds. A trade could be a potential solution, Parent said.

The land swap could “kill two birds with one stone,” Councilman Ben Johnson said, because it could restrict building on the hills — especially the high-sloped hills at the Pittsburg/Concord border — and make the city more upscale.

“It would be good for the city and good for those who don’t want houses built on the hills on that ridgeline,” he said.

Johnson, who sits on the Los Medanos Hills Concord and Pittsburg Working Group, added he wasn’t sure if homes would be visible from Concord anyway.

Pittsburg has been looking to create an open space buffer since voters approved a new Urban Limit Line in November 2005. Further, developing around the golf course in a manner similar to subdivisions in Brentwood would improve the outside perception of Pittsburg and would help make the city seem more upscale, Johnson said.

Before the council agreed 4-0 on the rights agreement, Parent said she was glad to see the agreement was for 36 months since there “would be a lot of hoops” with the Department of the Interior.

“The last time we went through the process, it was very long; and all that was just for a fire station,” she said.

This story also ran in the Contra Costa Times on January 4, 2009.

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