Developers eye Concord Naval Weapons Station for mixed-use community
CONCORD, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — Three major development groups have stepped forward to compete for the herculean task of converting the former Concord Naval Weapons Station site into the city's biggest ever mixed-use project and among the region's largest.
One of the applicants, Concord-based Seeno Companies, had once legally challenged the environmental impacts of redeveloping the site. Seeno, along with Discovery Builders, Inc., Lewis Group of Companies and California Capital Investment Group have now submitted a joint application to take on the project.
The two other applicants are multi-national Irvine-based City Ventures and multi-national Brookfield Development.
The three development groups submitted their applications by the city's deadline late Friday.
"In two-and-a-half years, I want to see dirt moving," Councilman Edi Birsan said in an email Wednesday about when he'd like to see the selected development proposal enter its construction phase.
"We're looking forward to a generation of not only new housing but also new jobs and locations for people to work," he added. "This is important for the city and all of Contra Costa."
The development groups' applications spell out how they intend to transform the 2,300-acre weapons station site into a massive community of 13,000 housing units and millions of square feet of office space — a venture once estimated to cost up to $6 billion.
The city intends to release summaries of the three groups' development proposals to the public next month, and in August the City Council is expected to interview one, two or all three of the applicants, depending on how the screening process unfolds.
This marks a major step forward for the city after numerous setbacks over the years, with the latest being in March 2020, when master developer Lennar Corp. walked away after city officials insisted it hire local labor for the project.
The City Council ended its partnership with Lennar — almost four years after picking the company to develop the first phase of the project — by refusing to extend an exclusive negotiating agreement that was about to expire.
The labor dispute had erupted three months earlier in January between Lennar and the Contra Costa Building and Constructions Trades Council. The council was asked to step in and decide whether the agreement offered by Lennar satisfied city-approved terms, but the council essentially told the company to settle its dispute with the unions.
"Both parties are kind of walking away," Mayor Tim McGallian told Mercury News in an interview after the council pulled the plug on the partnership and effectively sent the project back to the drawing board, right before the outset of the pandemic.
It wasn't until December that city officials cast their eyes on the naval weapons station site again and resumed discussions about developing it.
So that everyone would be on the same page this time around, city staff created a 134-page document detailing a broad vision of what the development could eventually look like with housing and office buildings, a tournament sports complex, community centers, public schools, parks, fire stations and public transit access points.
Even if the proposals submitted by the development groups are solid and meet the city's vision, it won't be clear sailing. The U.S. Navy is still in the process of transferring the weapons site to the city, and before doing so it has to clean up toxic chemicals believed to have accumulated over the years from all the weapons used. The Environmental Protection Agency meanwhile is assessing the site's soil for PFAS, a highly toxic fluorinated chemical.
The Navy, which owned and operated the station for decades during the mid-20th century, already transferred 2,500 acres to the East Bay Regional Park District in 2019 to develop a nearby regional park.
The Seeno Companies, which is owned by prominent local developer Albert Seeno III, whose multi-generational Seeno family is also linked to Discovery Builders, is familiar with the Navy's property.
In 2018, Seeno and Discovery Builders filed a lawsuit to prevent the Navy from transferring its land to the city, alleging that the scale of redevelopment would generate a lot of traffic and harm the city's air quality. And last year the company sued to prevent the Navy's transfer of nearby land to the regional park district as well.
Brookfield Development and City Ventures did not respond to a request for comment on this story, while a representative at Seeno Companies declined to be interviewed.
When the project enters the public review phase, the spotlight once again could shine on its environmental impacts, especially given its scale, Guy Bjerke, the city's economic development director. said in an interview.
"The additional review and proposed mitigations during the environmental review process would address all those (types of) concerns once we get a specific plan for the development," Bjerke said.
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