Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Owner Plans Commercial, Residential Development

Owner Plans Commercial, Residential Development
Formal application to be submitted soon; work likely to begin in two years
By SARAH ROHRS/Times-Herald staff writer
Article Launched: 04/06/2008

A restaurant, waterfront park and hundreds of housing units are slated for a flour mill which operated for nearly 135 years along south Vallejo's industrial waterfront.

Development plans for a mixed-use commercial and residential development have emerged since Brooks Street of Vallejo bought the 38-acre General Mills flour plant off Lemon Street in 2006.

Its grain elevators and conveyor belts empty, the former General Mills flour plant closed in 2004.

A.D. Starr first established the mill in 1869. The plant was bought by Sperry Flour Company in 1910 and later by General Mills.

"This is the first major investment in south Vallejo" in years, said Brooks Street project manager Devin Hassett.

Brooks Street has held one community meeting on the mixed-use development plans, and intends to submit a formal development application in the next month or so, Hassett said. Construction would likely begin in about two years, when the housing market would be stronger, he said.

More community outreach will be done on the development plans.

The opportunities for a public park and trail on a 9.5-acre parcel along the Mare Island Strait are particularly exciting since they would open up an area the community has never had access to, Hassett said.

The city leases the waterfront parcel to Brooks Street for $75,000 a year.

The eight-floor distinctive brick building, where tons of wheat were once turned into many kinds of flour, will be the development's focal point, said Hasset and Brooks Street spokesman Jason Keadjian.

The brick building could hold nearly 90 residential lofts, Keadjian said.

Through the brick building's conversion, its enormous stately windows would be restored and the entire building would be surrounded a parking garage. A nearby administration building would hold offices, studios and other commercial uses, Hassett said.

Brooks Street, with offices in a historic house on Mare Island, would relocate to the administration building.

Most of the site is slated to hold a combination of between 350 and 400 condominiums, town homes and single-family houses, Keadjian said. Plans show housing along the waterfront and nestled into the adjacent hillsides.

Among the plant buildings, the grain elevator and silos would be demolished and waterfront rail lines would be removed. With the Vallejo Ferry sailing past numerous times per day, Hassett said it's possible the boats could make a stop at the former plant.

A historic house where the general manager lived would be restored and moved to another part of the site. The historic structure is still standing, but in serious shape - stripped of windows, floors and other features.

Commercial uses for the site include the waterfront restaurant or cafe, professional offices, a child care facility or yoga studio.

"We want to encourage the use of the recreation amenity. There would be a lot of public access," Keadjian said.

Though Sandy Beach waterfront houses are next to the plant, no access would be given to the residential area where residents value their privacy.

Steve England, city real property and asset manager, said the Brooks Street development is a golden opportunity to inject new life into South Vallejo, which he said is an under-utilized part of the city.

However, Councilman Tom Bartee, a former General Mills supervisor, said he would like to see the former plant used to generate more jobs and sales tax rather than sport more houses.

Further, developers will have to find a way to pay for city services associated with the new housing, Bartee added.

Hassett said General Mills tried to find a buyer to continue the industrial uses, but no one stepped forward. At that point, the company turned toward other developers for alternative plans.

Long-time plant worker Floyd Miller, who now serves as the caretaker, said the site has been quiet since General Mills left.

Some activity on the site can be seen these days as soil and other testing is done to ensure all environmental issues have been addressed thoroughly, Hassett said. Several underground storage tanks were removed from the city-owned parcel.

General Mills completed environmental clean-up before selling the plant to Brooks Street, and monitoring work is now being done, Keadjian said.

• Contact Sarah Rohrs at srohrs@thnewsnet.com or 553-6832.

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