Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Seeno Revises Benicia Project

Seeno Revises Benicia Project
Controversial Plan Scaled Back To Get City Council's OK
By SARA STROUD/Times-Herald staff writer
Article Launched: 03/25/2008

BENICIA - Key portions of a controversial mixed-used project have been scaled back by more than half in some cases, a preview of changes showed Monday.

Although project officials were unavailable for comment, a city official said that the major changes reflected the company's recognition that the proposed development needed work in order to win City Council approval.

The revised project slashes the amount of zoned industrial space by 55 percent - from about 4.4 million square feet to about 2 million square feet. It includes about 857,000 square feet of commercial space.

And, the 9 million cubic yards of dirt slated to be moved during grading - a figure often decried by project opponents - has been reduced by half.

The developer, Discovery Builders, submitted revised plans for 528-acre Benicia Business Park to city staff late last week.

On Feb. 19, the City Council approved the project's environmental impact report, but asked for a number of changes, noting that the project was in conflict with the city's general plan.

"I think they got the message," community development director Charlie Knox said of Discovery Builders. "It was quite an effort on their part."

Discovery Builders representatives were unavailable for comment Monday, but the firm's attorney recently wrote the city that the company had been working hard to make the necessary changes within the allotted time.

The planning commission is schedule to review the project on April 10, after which the City Council would have 30 days to consider it.

Overall, the proposed project will be about 60 percent open space, while preserving existing waterways. It includes some low impact development components, such as bioswales, which absorb water and prevent runoff, Knox said.

Low impact development was a sticking point at a recent council meeting, when Mayor Elizabeth Patterson retracted her support of the project's environmental report approval because it didn't include the environmental measure.

Even with the submitted improvements, there likely will be further environmental and traffic concerns, Knox said.

The plans do not include adding a lane to Interstate 780 to handle increased traffic from the development. The revised plans point to fewer car trips to the future park, eliminating the need for another lane.

"This development is going to produce traffic," Knox said.

The project has generated opposition among some community members, even sparking two groups mobilized against the business park - Benicia First! and Citizens Considering the Consequences.

Jerome Page, of Benicia First! said he had not yet seen the revised plans, but anticipated the group will meet soon to discuss the changes.

• E-mail Sara Stroud at sstroud@thnewsnet.com or call 553-6833.

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