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Saltworks plans off the table
May 08, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

The Redwood City Council last night agreed by default to shelve the Saltworks development plan stalled for three years without a project description necessary to complete the application and finish environmental reviews of the controversial proposal.

The council did not take any vote, however, as it was a moot point coming after developer DMB Redwood City Saltworks announcement last Thursday to formally withdraw its 50-50 balanced plan while working on a scaled-back option.

Regardless, both the council and nearly two dozen members of the public took the opportunity to voice opinions on the proposal and future of the 1,436-acre site of salt ponds which preservationists want restored to tidal wetlands and that the developer, formerly known as DMB Associates, still plans to convert partially into housing.

The packed house was informed early by Mayor Alicia Aguirre than no action would be taken and cautioned them to remain respectful. One female speaker did get a spontaneous chiding by Councilman Jeff Ira when she yelled "its time to oust Foust” — a reference to Councilwoman Rosanne Foust’s position as president of the pro-Cargill development San Mateo County Economic Development Association — and two police officers walked her from the podium.

Several of the speakers urged the council to take steps to prevent the developer from taking another stab at a project no matter how it is configured, ticking off reasons including wetlands health, traffic congestion and incompatible land use.

"We strongly urge you to add denial of application to the list of options to consider in the future,” said Gail Raabe, speaking for Redwood City Neighbors United which vocally opposed the original plan.

Save the Bay, the environmental nonprofit that has led the public fight against the plan, echoed the sentiment.

"Redwood City and the region hope this will be a permanent end to inappropriate development at this site,” said political director Stephen Knight.

Knight said the group’s preference is that DMB donate the land for restoration like that done on Bair Island.

However, resident Lou Covey did ask for an advisory vote, not on a specific plan but if development should be prohibited all together on the land.

"I think that will finally answer the major question of what the people really want,” Covey said.

The original proposal known as the 50-50 Balanced Plan called for reserving 50 percent of the land as permanent open space, public recreation and tidal marsh restoration and develop the remaining half into housing, schools, parks and retail and transit facilities. Up to 12,000 homes would have been built under this plan.

However, DMB never followed with a specific project description on which the environmental review could be complete and last November said it planned to revise and resubmit its proposal. Without a plan or any idea of when might be coming, Foust last month suggested seeking an advisory vote from the public on what the city should do. Aguirre appointed councilmembers Barbara Pierce and Ira to look at the city’s options and Thursday released a report indicating that they would ask the council to ditch both the vote idea and the proposal outright.

Last night, Ira explained he and Pierce felt it "important to put an end to a lot of the divisiveness that was created around this project.”

Hours after the council recommendation was released last week, DMB made its own announcement that it was withdrawing the proposal formally although it planned to return with a revised, scaled-back plan.

John Bruno, senior vice president and general manager for DMB Redwood City Saltworks, reiterated that position last night. Bruno said DMB has "begun working diligently on a fully revised proposal” which he promised would be "a significant departure” on a much smaller scale while including affordable housing, parks and hiking trails.

The new plan is intended to fit within the general plan’s area designated urban reserve and are set aside for future city expansion. DMB believes a scaled-back version of its plan would fall within these areas.

Formally denying the proposal frees the city from time-consuming and costly functions like responding to constant public inquiries, polls, petitions and numerous other efforts for and against the controversial development idea, according to city officials.

With Saltworks out of the way, too, city officials hope they — and the public — can focus on other big-ticket projects in the pipeline like the Stanford in Redwood City campus, the development of Depot Circle and the ongoing renovation of downtown.

"We don’t want those things to be a distraction for people not to want to be highly involved and motivated,” Ira said. "We just really wanted to take control as a city.”

In other business, the City Council unanimously agreed to ban polystyrene-based disposal food containers and raised both sewer and water utility rates. The city received 32 protest letters against the water rate increase and 31 against the sewer rate increase, said City Attorney Pamela Thompson.

 The rate increases will add 12 percent to water utility charges and a $9.56-$115.76 sewer charge increase. Both go into effect July 1.

Michelle Durand can be reached by email: michelle@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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