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In The News

DMB Seeks Federal Decision Before Submitting New Proposal
The developers hope that federal agencies can clarify exactly what parts of the salt ponds fall under federal environmental law.

By Stacie Chan
Redwood City Patch, 5/31/12

It was no secret that develop DMB Pacific Ventures would be submitting a new proposal for the 1,436 acre plot of land on the Cargill Salt Ponds. But this time, they are first seeking federal clarification--which will likely take months-- before submitting an application to the city.

On May 3, the developers withdrew its initial “50/50 plan” application from the city and headed back to the drawing board. The developers have factored in an enormous amount of feedback from the community—some positive, negative and skeptical—to present a significantly scaled back project, said DMB Vice President David Smith.

“We’re excited and anxious to bring back this proposal,” Smith said.

The development will be contained to the area designated by the city’s General Plan as “Urban Reserve” or land that could be used “to expand the limits of the urbanized area of the city." However, the General Plan also states that exact land use designations of the Cargill property, such as housing or restoration, would be contingent on review of the final application. 

But before the city and other local and regional regulatory agencies get to see the new proposal, the developers want to settle any dispute over which regulatory agency has authority to enforce environmental laws. DMB sent a dictionary-thick application to the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday to determine which areas of the 1,436 acres of salt ponds fall under federal jurisdiction.

The northern most border of the land where tides hit is definitely under federal jurisdiction, Smith assumed, but the rest of the land may not be.

Both agencies do not have the authority to say either yay or nay to the proposal, but would instead instate various regulations and laws that the developer would have to comply with.

Smith anticipates a response in several months, meaning residents will have to wait quite some time before even getting a glimpse at the revised proposal.
“We don’t want to be secretive,” Smith said. “But we’re using the federal agencies’ rulings to then revise the plan.”

“We don’t want to be combative,” Smith said. “We want to collaborate with all 18 agencies.”

The advantage to understanding the federal regulations first? Smith said local agencies often heavily factor federal agencies’ determinations into their own regulations.

“We must make every agency happy,” Smith said. “And we’ve been working with all of them in tandem.”

No one agency has more authority than the other, Smith explained, but presenting the federal agencies’ official verdict will provide the other agencies with more background and information to make their decisions on whether DMB will need a permit or a specific compliance in their environmental impact report, for example.

When DMB began drafting the new application, they delved into the history of the site to understand what sort of uses had been implemented before. By 1931, the portion of land currently designated as “Urban Reserve” had already been converted from marsh land to development. Smith acknowledged that the pickle ponds had always been open space, and that area will likely be restored under the new application.

“What does history say about this land?” Smith said. “We want to respect the way the land was used and follow that.”

Will This New Development Appease the Opposition?

“We’ve certainly had a dynamic conversation regarding this project,” Smith said of the highly charged debate whether the development should go through and remain as salt ponds.”

Smith said he hopes residents will see that the city, in its General Plan, identified part of the salt ponds as “Urban Reserve.”

With the influx of residents from companies like Facebook and the new Stanford project, Smith said there was a responsibility to house all these people and give them benefits like open space and parks.

However, a group in opposition to the proposed development, Redwood City Neighbors United, issued the following statement:

“Nothing about the property has changed,” the group said. “The message from the agencies and the community is clear: this isn’t the right place for housing.”

The ambiguous zoning of “Urban Reserve” does not specify if the land could accommodate housing or if it should be restored.

The group emphasized its belief that the city should focus on implementing the Downtown Precise Plan which “meets the city’s housing needs, revitalizes our downtown, and protects our environment.”

Smith said that opponents have offered no alternative solution to the housing dearth along the Peninsula and support leaving the salt ponds as is.

“To the ‘no way, no how’ group, what do you propose?” Smith said. “But we will work with the community to find the right vision.”


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