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In The News

Mini-city enters Bayfront battle
Plans unveiled for 12,000 homes on Cargill salt flats

By Shaun Bishop
Daily News, 5/13/09

A developer unveiled plans Tuesday to build a mini-city on Redwood City’s Cargill salt flats with up to 12,000 homes for as many as 25,000 residents, sparking a new environmental battle over the Bay front likely to last years.

DMB Associates intends to submit the plans to the city early next week. They lay out the firm’s vi sion for 1,433 acres of land east of Highway 101 between Marsh Road and Seaport Boulevard that were at the center of a polarizing ballot initiative last year.

The Saltworks project calls for the construction of 8,000 to 12,000 town homes, condominiums and apartments in seven neighborhoods over a period of 25 years, said John Bruno, the Arizona-based firm’s vice president and general manager. Fif teen percent of the housing would be sold at be low- market rates, and some commercial build ings would be built along Seaport.

In addition, the developer proposes building at least five schools, 200 acres of parks and open space, roads and a streetcar system to connect the development to the Caltrain station in down town Redwood City. Bruno said DMB will restore about 450 acres of the site to wetlands, build a 50-acre sports field complex and create a three-mile-long public park along the edge of the wetlands.

Bruno called the project the “next phase of expansion of Redwood City” and said it will create much-needed housing for employees who now commute long distances to the Peninsula. He said he is confident the housing market will recover in the three to four years it could take for the project to be approved.

“Even in this economic reset, the imperative about the jobs-housing imbalance is something that exists not only when times are good, but in the difficult times we have right now,” Bruno said.

But supporters of Measure W, which 63 per cent of residents rejected in the November elec tion, said Tuesday they plan to continue fighting the developer’s plans and pushing to have the entire site — historically used for salt harvesting — restored to wetlands.

Measure W, drawn up in response to the po ential Cargill development, would have required two-thirds of voters to approve any new construction on land considered “open space,” including the Cargill property. But voters shot down the measure amid criticism that its definition of open space was too vague and would have triggered votes for smaller property owners.

“I think (DMB is) in denial about a lot of facts, about what is legally possible on the site and what is smart,” said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, one of the groups that backed Measure W. “They’re proposing a project that would destroy Bay shoreline and open space that should be restored.”

Lewis said the city should be debating uses for the Cargill site this year as it crafts its new general plan, a planning document that outlines how sections of land in the city should be used. The council decided in January to deal with the Cargill site separately from the general plan.
  Mayor Rosanne Foust said city staff will review DMB’s application to ensure it is complete, but a public vetting of the plans won’t start until the general plan is finished near the end of the year.

“This is going to be a really good general plan,” Foust said. “It’s going to give us a sense of where we want to go in certain areas. It’s going to have, probably, questions in other areas.”

Bruno declined to discuss other details of the project, including parking space and traffic impact on Highway 101. He said the city’s environmental review process will answer some of those questions.

Though critics have contended the project would strain the city’s water demands, Bruno said the impact should be minimal if the development uses groundwater and employs conservation techniques such as recycled water for non-drinking purposes.

If the development doesn’t happen, Cargill has no plans to sell the property and could opt to continue making salt, Bruno said.

“This is really about smart growth versus no growth,” he said.
  Ralph Nobles, a longtime resident and founder of a group that opposes development on the Cargill site, said the project should wend its way through the city process, “and then we will decide as citizens what we want to do.

“It’s got a long ways to go yet,” Nobles said. “And I’m glad to see it finally getting started.”

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