Less than a month after developers withdrew a stalled proposal to build up to 12,000 houses on former salt ponds in Redwood City, the group unveiled plans to cut the footprint in half and seek federal regulatory input before returning to the city.
On Tuesday, DMB Pacific Ventures and Cargill filed a request with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a formal decision on what extent, if at all, they have jurisdiction over the Saltworks site. David Smith, senior vice president of DMB Pacific Ventures, said looking to the federal agencies before starting a new public process in Redwood City is responsible and a way to first clarify what can even be built on the land.
Asking for the jurisdictional determination "doesn’t directly impact what the city does or doesn’t do but just because they approve it doesn’t mean it is in compliance with federal laws,” Smith said. "The city could approve something we can’t build.”
The new plan will be less than half the acreage of the now-defunct 50-50 Balanced Plan which called for reserving 50 percent of the 1,436 acres 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.
The latest proposal would limit development to areas near Seaport Boulevard designated "urban reserve” in the city’s general plan and which Smith said has the longest history of being disturbed and utilized for industrial purposes over the last century. DMB was already looking a scaled-down proposal but also used public input over the last six years to reframe its vision for the former salt production site, Smith said.
Specific numbers on housing units haven’t been penciled out but Smith said the smaller plan should still be able to deliver previously promised transit and parks. Sports fields will have smaller acreage and more of the site would be available for environmental restoration and wetland re-creation, he said.
The consolidated plan may also affect regulatory approval. DMB believes the area within the perimeter does not fall under federal jurisdiction but Smith said that is why the developers are asking sooner rather than later. The agencies could agree, they could focus on areas DMB isn’t seeing or maybe they point out areas the plan can outright avoid, he said.
"We think it makes greater sense to call the question now,” Smith said.
In 2009, DMB asked for a preliminary jurisdictional determination on the 50-50 plan but that did not require the developers to agree the agencies had authority. Instead, they acted as though it was a hypothetical to assess what a permit might look like without actually seeking an official ruling.
David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, which opposes any development at the site, said the request shows DMB is "just not listening or not liking the answers.”
The federal agencies make determinations based on the land, not the plan, so even an altered proposal should return the same conclusion, Lewis said.
"I’m concerned that they’re not listening when the community says it doesn’t like the project and not listening when agencies say they have jurisdiction over the site,” Lewis.
Redwood City Neighbors United, a group formed in response to the proposal also urged DMB to "respect the community’s vision and stop wasting time and resources on entertaining a project that is both unnecessary and inappropriate.”
Earlier this month, DMB formally withdrew its 50-50 Balanced Plan as the City Council announced plans to deny the project because it had sat for three years without the description necessary to complete the application and finish environmental reviews. Formally denying the proposal freed 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.
Smith said the public buzz around with the withdrawal was unfounded as the 50-50 plan had been all but formally withdrawn by that point and they were working on the new footprint.
"I don’t mean to diminish what the city has done. It was A-OK but it didn’t really alter what we were on the path to do,” he said.
Michelle Durand can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.