Soccer complex developer heading elsewhere as fight over vacant land continues
By Hannah Dreier
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 07/09/2011 11:07:05 PM PDT
Updated: 07/10/2011 05:23:35 PM PDT
RICHMOND -- A plan to build a soccer complex on the city's north shoreline appears to be dead, but the fight over this mostly vacant land is far from over.
A developer who had proposed to build a soccer complex featuring 19 fields, a hotel and an outdoor mall on Richmond's northwestern edge is taking his proposal to Suisun City, he said last week.
But the furor still rages over a draft of the city's revised general plan, which proposes to preserve the north shoreline as the city's by designating it open space.
When city staff proposed the change this winter, landowners immediately cried foul and pledged to sue over the diminishment of value.
"They want to take my property and down-value it and buy the land for 10 cents on the dollar," said Daniel Murray, who owns 55 acres of north shoreline land currently zoned for industrial use.
"But I'm a wealthy landowner from Belvedere, so I have no rights."
Environmentalists and progressive city leaders such as Tom Butt and Mayor Gayle McLaughlin applauded the change.
A new twist was added this spring to the fight shaping up between landowners and preservationists, when a developer proposed to buy Murray's north shoreline property and turn it into a sprawling soccer complex.
Developer Terry Kwong, who built Richmond's Asian-centric Pacific East Mall in the 1990s, never got as far as submitting a formal application to the city, but his proposal struck a chord with Richmond's Latino community, which accounts for 40 percent of the population.
The north shoreline, located several miles from downtown and inaccessible by public transportation, boasts sweeping vistas and a portion of the San Francisco Bay Trail, but it is also home to isolated marshes, industrial brownfields and a gun club.
Urged by Latino community leaders, scores of residents turned out to the City Council's June 7 meeting, where the north shoreline zoning changes were to be discussed.
Soccer coach Diego Garcia handed out hundreds of fliers ahead of the meeting that touted the 1,500 jobs and $32 million in tax revenue the development would bring, as well as the benefits to Richmond's youths.
But the issue was pushed to the July 5 agenda so that staff could figure out whether Butt, a councilman, had a conflict of interest, then dropped altogether. City leaders now will consider the matter along with the rest of the general plan revisions in October.
Kwong confirmed last week that he is taking his proposal elsewhere.
He declined to say why, but many in Richmond think they already know the answer.
Open-space advocates say Kwong's development was a red herring designed to generate community support for landowners hoping to preserve their property values.
"I didn't think this soccer thing was ever real," Butt said. "I think it's something that the property owner ran up the flagpole to try to solicit support from people in Richmond who are interested in soccer fields."
Robert Cheasty, president of Citizens for East Shore Parks, agreed, and said his group would be happy to buy Murray's land and build public soccer fields while also protecting the 16 endangered or threatened species that call that area home.
Proponents of the development say the city has once again sided with progressives to kill a job-creating proposal.
"Richmond is closed for business," said 23rd Street Merchant's Association President Rafael Madrigal.
Garcia speculated that the city couldn't "go against the community," and so they postponed the matter until the people gave up.
The landowners, for their part, are still planning to sue should the zoning changes go through, and everyone seems to agree that the fight is far from over.
Contact Hannah Dreier at 510-262-2787. Follow her at Twitter.com/hannahdreier.