In 2006, Brisbane voters were faced with a decision to either approve or kill a developer’s plan to build 173 condos in a rock quarry on the edge of town.
They killed it, siding with opponents who said the plan was just too big and too environmentally damaging for their small, artsy enclave.
So when asked whether it might be an uphill battle to convince Brisbane voters to approve a proposal by a different developer that would add 4,500 new homes to their town — tripling its size — Senior Planner John Swiecki just laughed.
“I think that’s a pretty safe conclusion to draw,” he said.
Uphill battle or not, the plan was officially put forth last week by developer Universal Paragon Corp., and the city will start to examine its potential environmental impact this summer.
The $1.2 billion proposal would pay to finally scrub the 660-acre Baylands site of its historic contamination from its former uses as a railyard, an industrial area and a San Francisco-fed landfill.
To pay for that cleanup, which could cost $200 million, Universal Paragon is asking for the right to build up to 12 million square feet of residential and commercial development, including the 4,500 homes.
The development would be transit-oriented and could bring more than 15,000 jobs to the vicinity, said Universal Paragon General Manager Jonathan Scharfman. It would also boast the largest solar farm in an urban area in the country, he said.
The next step is to analyze the Universal Paragon proposal and compare it to two alternates: One is basically the town’s ideal proposal, arrived at by civic leaders after a year of community sessions; a second alternate will look at simply putting a large solar or wind farm on the site.
Scharfman said that while the other proposals are naturally going to be attractive to the community, the only way it will be economically viable to clean up and develop the site is to have a truly mixed-use development.
“Like a well-balanced diet or a diversified investment portfolio, an economically viable land use requires a mix of uses that can withstand the vicissitudes of market cycles,” he said.
The fact that this will be a tough sell to development-wary Brisbane residents is no secret to Scharfman, but he said residents should watch the environmental review carefully and make up their own minds.
“We’re not asking for approval right now,” he said. “What we’re asking is that the environmental impact report be done so the voters and the decision-makers have all of the information in front of them to make the assessment themselves.”
The Baylands have been owned by Universal Paragon Corp. since 1989 and the developer and others have thrown out numerous ideas for its future, from shopping centers to an NFL stadium.
But the developer only first approached the city with an application — one that proposed commercial development but no new residences — in 2006.
In what turned into sort of a dream-house exercise, the city responded to the application by developing its own “ideal” proposal for the land — essentially, what would be there if the town had its choice.
In that plan, fully half of the land would be open space, and the rest would host several million square feet of office and retail space, a small industrial area, a hotel, an entertainment district and an 8,000- to 10,000-seat performance space. There were zero homes.
Universal Paragon General Manager Jonathan Scharfman said his company looked carefully at that “community proposal” and integrated many of its features into its latest application, including expanding the open space from 26 percent to 33 percent and aiming for the most energy-efficient development technologically available.
“It was to give the developer some guidance in terms of what the community found acceptable,” Brisbane City Manager Clay Holstine said.
Asked whether Universal Paragon’s latest proposal — which is technically an amendment to the 2006 proposal — is closer or further away from that community idea, Holstine said there were some concessions, but that the housing piece is likely to be difficult to swallow for the town.
“There definitely are different visions there,” he said. “The community is driven by a desire to clean up the land and to have good public uses on it and to retain a sense of character and self-image, while the developer is ultimately driven by what will be able to make a profit for them.”
— Katie Worth
Developer Universal Paragon Corp. has amended its 2006 proposal for the 660-acre Baylands property. Brisbane has also come up with its own community proposal – what the community would ideally like to see on the land, meant to be a guide for developers. Here’s how the plans compare.
UPC’s 2006 proposal
Office, retail, entertainment and industrial uses: 5 million square feet on 175 acres
Residential units: 0
Open space including lagoon: 217 acres
UPC’s 2010 proposal
Office, retail, entertainment and industrial uses: 7.2 million square feet
Residential units: 4,500,
Open space including lagoon: 324 acres
Brisbane’s community proposal
Office, retail, entertainment and industrial uses: 7.8 million square feet
Residential units: 0
Open space including lagoon: 330 acres