Decisive vote over Point Richmond Bottoms property expected

on December 2, 2014

Located in Point Richmond, the Bottoms property is a 25-acre site commanding views of San Francisco Bay to the south. Shea Homes, based in Walnut, Calif., is proposing to build a 60-unit residential development on the site, consisting of five two-story buildings along the shoreline and four four-story buildings inland. When finished, approximately 170 residents would live there.

According to the developer, the project would provide a new shoreline public space for the city of Richmond and amenities including public parking, dog stations and a bicycle repair station.

But three years in, the Shea Homes plan is meeting resistance. Richmond residents are questioning the company’s request for a General Plan Amendment (GPA), which would allow four of the proposed buildings to exceed 35 feet in height, the maximum the city’s General Plan allows. The General Plan was created by the Richmond City Council to guide sustainable growth and development. It provides a comprehensive framework for developing a healthy city and healthy neighborhoods.

The developers say there would be little environmental impact, but many in the Point Richmond community disagree, complaining that it would obstruct their views and reduce home values.

Project merits vs. environmental impacts

Donald Hofer, Shea’s vice president of community and land development said the project would offer significant benefits to the community-at-large and said “there is just one issue of height.”

According to a report by Development Planning & Financing Group, Inc., a real estate professional services group that Shea Homes is a client to, the project is expected to bring $18,000 in annual sales tax revenue and annual property tax revenues of $198,000 to the city.

The project also has the support of Ruth Vasquez-Jones, president and CEO of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. In a letter to the City Planning Commission she wrote, “The Shea Homes Bottoms Property residential development offers significant economic benefits to Richmond including 353 jobs created as a result of project related construction activity.”

But many remain unconvinced. No matter what economic benefits the project will bring to the community, some residents say the benefits won’t outweigh the unavoidable environmental impacts.

Christine L. Crawl is an attorney at law at GagenMcCoy, which represents a group of residents living adjacent to the project site.

“The [proposal] references many general land use policies and goals fulfilled by the project, such as the creation of market-rate housing and temporary construction jobs,” said Crawl. “These are benefits that could be provided by any residential project in any city and are not all linked to the proposed project or the view and aesthetics impacts.”

According to a staff report proposed for the Nov.13th Planning Commission meeting, approximately six homes that abut the proposed project site would have their views impacted by the new development.

Kathryn Dienst, a Point Richmond resident and a member of the Neighborhood Council Land Use Committee wrote to the Planning Commission that the proposed project will block a scenic corridor, taking views away from the Seacliff public park, and will negatively impact property values for at least 20 homeowners.

But according to statement on Shea Homes website; “Through the use of creative site planning, careful placement of buildings, varied rooflines and narrow building designs, the impact to neighbors’ views is minimal.”

Will General Plan Amendment open door for future projects?

Residents further worry that approval of the proposed project would have a citywide impact. For instance, another project currently underway in Point Richmond — dubbed Terminal One — also has the same height issue and may be affected by an amendment to the General Plan.

David Cole, an owner in Brickyard Landing, which is located near the proposed Shea development, wrote that because several other nearby properties are slated to be developed in the near future, allowing the proposal to construct higher buildings could set a bad precedent.

Associate Planner of the Planning Department Kieron Slaughter denies this, saying one exception would not open the door for future projects. “Any future project will have to go through environmental review, design review, planning commission and city council approval, ” he said.

He added that the General Plan is very new. “It’s great, but it’s not perfect. The state recognizes it. So it allows us to change [it] every four months,” Slaughter said. “The General Plan may need to be amended from time to time.” To amend the General Plan, the Planning Commission can make a recommendation to the Richmond City Council. The City Council then votes to approve the amendment or not.

Hofer agreed. ” [Approving the proposal] doesn’t necessarily mean you have to allow Terminal One or other development programs within the community.

Are there any better alternatives?

At the Nov.13th Planning Commission meeting, Secretary Marilyn Langlois raised the possibility of removing the top floors of the four inland buildings and incorporating the removed units into other space, which could avoid the General Plan Amendment and keep the 60 units at the same time.

Slaughter called that alternative less than desirable; “It closes all the view corridors that are created to satisfy some of the residents in Seacliff and it makes a wall on the waterfront.”

Hofer said Shea does not support that alternative either. “I don’t think the design review board would approve it,” he said. “There [are] more reasons that alternative doesn’t meet the General Plan than the one we promoted. Lastly, I don’t believe its’ economic viability.”

Rob Wainwright, Senior Community Development Manager at Shea Homes added that it’s difficult for Shea to step back three years and start over again. In the meantime, the alternative would change the whole market. It changes the property from “upscale, single family, detached with single entrance” to a “multi-family, town-home-feel residential condominium.”

Planning Commission member Jeffrey Kilbreth also asked if the developer could take a few units away from the top.

“I’m not 100 percent persuaded that we need to raise the height,” said Reyes. “I see the reason why it’s problematic to raise it both {because of its} massiveness and adjacency to Seacliff,” he said.

Wainwright said taking some units away from the top would potentially improve the neighbors’ views. However the GPA would still be required to be approved.

In the Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report (RDEIR) prepared by FirstCarbon Solutions, an environmental sustainability consulting company, there is a discussion of alternatives, many within 35 feet, which do not require the GPA. However according to the report, the alternatives either have greater impact than the proposed project, or have a similar impact to the proposed project.

Source: RDEIR

Source: RDEIR

During a Point Richmond Neighborhood Council meeting in October 2013, residents voted 34 in favor of the proposal, 2 against it, with 2 abstaining, giving conditional approval only if the development is within the 35 feet of the plan’s height guidelines.

The final review of the project is scheduled for the City Council Meeting on Dec. 2. If approved, it will allow four of the nine buildings to be constructed at heights up to 48 feet.

1 Comment

  1. joseh puleo on December 3, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    If Shea homes had spent the last three years conforming its project to the general plan rather then trying to avoid its requirements it would not be having its present problem..



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