|Commercial Versus Residential?
November 1, 2005
The following story in today’s West County Times discusses what appears to be a trend of converting property intended for commercial use to residential use and cites what some construe as adverse impacts on jobs, taxes and city services.
The story focuses on the Pulte Home’s project, The Anchorage at Marina Bay, and particularly on the fact that the City Council reversed a Planning Commission denial.
Several people have also asked me to explain my rationale for voting with the City Council majority to ultimately approve the project despite opposition by the Marina Bay Neighborhood Council, which I usually support.
Here are my reasons:
projects appear in zones for business use
During its last meeting, the Richmond City Council reversed a planning commission decision so that Pulte Homes can build 208 residential units on property zoned for commercial use.
The council's decision signaled a land-use trend in which residential development is encroaching into areas that have traditionally been set aside for manufacturing, retail and offices.
Planning officials say such development is good for the city's economy, and is in keeping with national trends. Opponents argue the city will lose business tax revenue and long-term jobs, and that conflicts between businesses and homeowners will make it increasingly difficult for businesses to operate.
Three recent projects illustrate the trend. The Pulte Homes project, Anchorage at Marina Bay, was just approved on property adjacent to a Southern Pacific Railroad line, a railroad switching yard, and the DiCon Fiber Optics research and development facility.
Further inland, the Summer Lane Homes project, which will consist of 164 residential units, is under construction on the site of a former strip mall. In the May Valley tract, 43 residential units have recently been completed by Braddock and Logan on the site of a former shopping mall at Valley View and May roads.
Of the three projects, the Pulte Homes development has been the most controversial. In August, the planning commission denied the project for what seemed like solid reasons. The commission's decision was based on several issues, including poor quality of life because of train noise and health risks from train diesel fumes. But the overriding reason was the property is primarily zoned for commercial use, said commission Chairwoman Virginia Finlay.
"It would be fair to say I was very disappointed when the council reversed our decision," she said. "It appeared to be a straightforward land-use decision, but unfortunately the council has chosen to make piecemeal decisions rather than conforming to the general plan."
Finlay said building residential property on commercially zoned land threatens the city's tax base. She said Richmond will get a cut of the property taxes for these developments, but the new communities will end up costing more than commercial development because the city will lose sales tax revenue in addition to having to provide police, fire and maintenance services for the new communities.
"We can't afford to erode the tax base, which is what we're doing when we put residential in for commercial, industrial and light industrial," Finlay said.
Building residential developments so close to commercial properties also creates a conflict over noise, traffic and health risks, said Jim Cannon, a board member of the Contra Costa Council of Industries.
"Every time we have an intrusion, there's conflict between the residents and the industry, and we want to avoid it before it gets started," Cannon said. "We know this is going to happen because it happens every time."
But Richmond's interim planning director, Richard Mitchell, said residential development in industrial and commercial areas is a nationwide trend.
"In the old days, a plant would be built, and everybody would rush to live near it for employment," he said. "Now industries are more nimble and are likely to follow residential development, and especially so if there are a lot of amenities for employees. And Richmond has a lot of amenities."
Mitchell said attractive features in Richmond include 32 miles of waterfront, close proximity to San Francisco, easy access to public transportation, and residential property still affordable by Bay Area standards.
"What we're doing here is not radical," he said. "There are similar projects in Oakland's Jack London Square, Emeryville and San Jose. We are following trends that have already occurred in other areas."
Mitchell said the Summer Lanes and Valley View projects, which are being built on former retail sites, are also part of a national trend.
"Many cities are building residential developments either on or near these large, sprawling, 1970s-era shopping malls," he said. "Many of them are failing financially, and the new residential developments create more of a market for the businesses."
The city has begun the process to update its general plan, and Mitchell said the revised plan will likely result in more zoning areas that include a variety of uses.
Contact John Geluardi at 510-262-2787 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Residential development on commercially zoned land:
Anchorage at Marina Bay:
Pulte Homes just received approval to build 208 residential units at 1689 Regatta Blvd. in Marina Bay.
Summer Lane Homes: D.R. Horton is constructing 164 residential units on the site of a former strip mall at Hilltop mall.
43 residential units on the site of a former strip mall at Valley View and May roads. Valley View Homes: Braddock and Logan has recently completed