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City’s rule to accommodate developers questioned

on December 12, 2013

An aerial view of the site of Terminal One Project.

An aerial view of the site of Terminal One Project.

Residents of Point Richmond are questioning a decision from the Planning Department that gives a green light for developers to build multi-million dollar projects that residents say violate the city’s rules.

The new General Plan, adopted last year to guide Richmond’s future development, limits building height in medium-density residential neighborhoods to 35 feet, with a maximum of 40 dwelling units per acre.

The plan did not specify how height should be measured until this September when the Planning Department issued an interpretation, specifying that height in areas with multiple buildings shall be measured by averaging the height of all buildings.

Some Point Richmond community representatives say that the interpretation gives a nod to developers to violate the plan.

“I think they are trying to rush through,” said Kathryn Dienst, a Point Richmond resident and a member of the Pt. Neighborhood Council Land Use Committee. “They are short on revenue and they would like to get them developed,” she said.

“The interpretation would allow you to build a 60 foot tower and a 10 foot restaurant and tell you the average height is 35,” said Dienst, who has a degree in urban planning. “Obviously there is a cost advantage for developers to fit in more units on the same piece of land.”

Currently there are two development projects underway in Point Richmond, the Terminal One and the Bottoms/Shea. According to the plan for the latter, the developer wants to build nine buildings on the site: four at 46 feet and the rest at about 26 feet.

Dienst, who lives in the Seacliff neighborhood next to the Bottoms/Shea project, said that the 46-foot tall buildings would block the views from 20 houses in her neighborhood.

No development plan for the Terminal One Project has been submitted, but one of the developers said the height of certain portions of the buildings would certainly be over 35 feet, according to Paul Menzies, CEO of Laconia Development LLC.

The Terminal One site, a 13.8-acre property located to the east of Ferry Point and west of the Richmond Yacht Club, was formerly contaminated then cleaned up. A company set to develop the site abandoned the project after the recession hit in 2008.

An aerial view of the site of Bottoms/Shea Project.

An aerial view of the site of Bottoms/Shea Project.

The city had trouble finding the right developer until this year, when Terminal One expressed an interest in paying the $10 million dollar purchase price for the property. It is the only company that offered that amount. On December 3, the City Council granted the project exclusive rights to negotiate, which secured the city a $500,000 non-refundable deposit.

Richard Mitchell, Director of Planning and Building with the city, said his agency has not yet granted approval for any project, nor does he have the authority to do so. He said the interpretation is simply to “provide the developer with something to move forward with the design.”

“Everybody is just way ahead of the curve to discuss the height and density issues,” Mitchell said. “Let’s first see what developers are going to propose, and how the community is going to respond, and then figure out what exceptions, if any, needs to be made.”

Apparently many in the Point Richmond community disagree.

In November, the neighborhood’s Land Use Committee Chairman Rod Satre sent an email to the design review board, urging the board and planning commission to follow the guidelines. By failing to do so, Satre wrote, Richmond “is opening itself up to a suit to stop this development.”


  1. Giorgio Cosentino on December 13, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    This is totally dishonest!

    • Jimmy wu on December 16, 2013 at 12:02 pm

      It’s clear the city staff will look for ways to support projects they like , and on the same subject look for ways to slow down or defeat a project the staff doesn’t like. What’s interesting is the city council view take a back seat to staff’s desires , the old saying you can’t fight city hall rings true , how many projects that fit with what the citizens want are not given the light of day ?

      • Giorgio Cosentino on December 17, 2013 at 8:04 pm

        Either the General Plan is flawed (incomplete) if it needed such an interpretation at a later date, or, the “interpretation” is really a “deviation.” And for Director Mtichell to say everyone is ahead of the curve, I have to ask him, why did he voice his interpretation, then? Isn’t he, too, “ahead of the curve”?

  2. R Scott McLean on December 31, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    These discussions are always focused on height limitations. Local cities that come to mind with good civic mindedness about building are Berkeley, and Fairfax. What about insisting that local (Point Richmond) architects and designers must be on staff, or consulted with. So often, new projects are designed on a computer in Dallas (Nothing against Dallas.) Why not be more progressive, and establish new ideas? (Think ground breaking, in the figurative sense.)

    Point Richmond is the most unique area on the planet. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an artist, designer, architect, historian, techie, or politician. What more could you ask for when planning a new community? We could all benefit tremendously if instead of knee-jerk reactions we ALL worked together as a team.

    Personally, I like traditional building methods. Many Victorian homes built before 1900 are still standing! It doesn’t get any greener than that. Their designs took efficiency into consideration, including orientation to the sun, porches (which I believe help to reduce break-ins, and add comfort and encourage neighborly appeal) I also think that uniqueness is key. For example, the Marina’s homeowner assoc specifically requires uniqueness of design. This can be taken too far, of course. Some assimilation is nice. Also, real variation in size, and taking the local geography, culture, and environment are important. I think the designers should actually set up a portable on the site, with all design taking place, there. Regular meetings could be made for review by locals. We should even require local builders, and high-end materials.

    So often these projects are set-up as separate LLC’s. We need to know if that is the case, here. If so, they don’t have much vested interest in the long-term success or failureof the project. If it fails to make money, no big deal…as long as the higher-ups salaries get paid. then, on to the next LLC. They just keep re-inventing the wheel. We are talking big money, and big politics, here. (Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, and look for me int the bottom of the Bay, next week. But, that’s the truth.) Despite all this negativity, I find that, ironically, it can and should be win-win-win-win, if everyone starts thinking like a team. Invite Shea to stay at hotel Mac, meet some of the real locals, and give them the tour: by boat, car, bike, trail, swim, entertainment, eats, and so on. Get them to love Point Richmond so that they will feel as passionate as I do about taking this opportunity to create something we can all write hoe about, and set a new standard. (Think outside the box!) We don’t need to create another albatross.

    There’s so much more to say…really.

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