Friday, December 26, 2008

Concord will make key weapons station use decisions in January

CONCORD — Mayor Laura Hoffmeister remembers the day in November 2005 when the Concord Naval Weapons Station was revealed as one of several military bases nationwide that would shut down in the next few years. She did a CNN interview at 3 a.m. and addressed local reporters at 4 a.m.

Things haven't really slowed down much since then.

Since 2005, there have been massive debates over the project, including angry testimony from residents demanding that whatever the new development is, it shouldn't burden existing residents with new traffic. There have even been attempts by the federal government to take over the project.

These days, however, as the City Council gets close to a key decision, things seem comparatively peaceful.

On Jan. 12, three years and dozens of public workshops after that 2005 closure list was announced, the Concord City Council will decide what mix of houses, office parks and open space it wants on the base's 5,028 acres.

After that, the U.S. Navy and the city will do simultaneous environmental studies on that plan to make sure it won't cause too much noise, pollution and threat to wildlife habitat. The city will then amend its General Plan to include the development, and the U.S. Navy could sell its property by spring 2010.

"We're getting close to figuring out our vision now," Hoffmeister said.

So far, city leaders favor a "clustered villages" approach that calls for 12,300 housing units, a Advertisementpopulation of 29,000 and 65 percent of the land designated as open space and parks. The proposal includes a college and a sports complex, plus a great park in the central and eastern portions of the property. The most intense development would be nestled against the North Concord BART station. There are also three small self-contained villages with their own parks and schools in the center.

"No matter what we do, there will be second-guessing," said Councilman Bill Shinn. "But if we're able to accomplish our main goals — the college, the open space, the affordable housing — people will generally be pleased."

These days, city leaders talk mostly about growth issues surrounding the base, but that wasn't always the case. There was a time when politics ruled.

In November 2006, the Navy announced it wanted to sell the base to the Louisiana-based Shaw Group, a private company. City leaders argued that this flew in the face of federal base closure laws, which required the city to draft a blueprint for development at the weapons station first. At the time, the Navy said it needed the money because of the war and couldn't afford to wait — and so Shaw would get the property in exchange for $1 billion in military construction contracts.

The day after the announcement, then-Mayor Susan Bonilla said the Navy had broken trust. She argued such a deal would allow a private company to force its own agenda on the City Council more easily than a developer who comes in after the fact. City and regional leaders fought, and the Navy eventually backed down.

Then a year later, Navy officials argued that Concord was dragging its feet, and again threatened to take planning away. That never happened, and in January the city will make its long-awaited land use decision.

"Now, it's a matter of the balancing act," Hoffmeister said. "Someone comes in and says, 'I want more affordable housing.' Then I say, 'Well, OK, but then we have to build more high-end housing to pay for that, and then that eats into the open space, so if you're willing to give up some open space, I'm willing to look at that. Are you?'"

For information, go to

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