Council trying ‘cooperative’ annexation concept

HIA leaders say they won’t join city without a more stable government in place

BELMONT — Some city leaders are urging a kinder, gentler approach to annexing 67 acres of unincorporated land in the Harbor Industrial Area, but property owners there say that won’t make them warm up to the idea.

A new resolution “supporting a cooperative annexation process” heads to the City Council tonight for a vote, following a tense study session in September at which representatives for property owners in the harbor area told the city they were not interested in becoming part of Belmont.

HIA businesspeople said they could support a cooperative approach — but won’t cooperate until Belmont establishes a more stable government with a permanent City Manager at the helm.

The city has gone through four interim city managers so far since City Manager Jere Kersnar departed abruptly in 2003, and turnover was relatively high in the city manager’s office even before that date, compared to other cities in the county.

Council member Bill Dickenson, who is part of a council subcommittee studying annexation of the HIA and one of the sponsors of the resolution, along with council member Warren Lieberman, hopes to help Belmont shed its “business-unfriendly” reputation.

Dickenson cited the family-owned Union 76 gas station and Belmont Hardware as examples of businesses with deep and loyal roots in the community.

“I’m eager to get things done,” he said. “We have unincorporated land, and the county has made it clear that it’s not in their charter to maintain the liability.”

Other council members question, however, whether adopting a resolution is enough to make the city seem business-friendly.

“It’s certainly not business-friendly to try to take somebody over,” Councilmember Coralin Feierbach said. “I think we should be reasonable with everyone, whether they’re a businessperson or a resident.”

Belmont officials tried to annex the other 163 acres of the Harbor Industrial Area in the late 1990s, but lost the area to San Carlos after a bruising battle in 1997, again because business owners viewed the city as politically unstable and unfriendly to business.

Belmont’s General Plan encourages annexation of the remaining Harbor Industrial Area, and Kersnar came close to succeeding before his departure, according to Howard Jones, past present of the Harbor Industrial Association.

“Once again, they are in an era of instability,” Jones said. “Trying to negotiate with Belmont is like trying to hit a moving target.”

Jones supported tonight’s resolution, and said it’s time for both sides to bury the hatchet and find common ground.

If Belmont is able to annex the area, some officials have suggested redevelopment concepts such as shopping or “gaslight” districts for the longtime industrial zone — talk that has contributed to the unease of some propertyowners.

However, recent changes — such as the construction of a new four-story storage facility on Harbor Drive — make such plans nearly impossible, according to Feierbach.

“I have to take that back,” Feierbach said. “Little by little, it’s being invaded by things that can't be turned around.”

The Belmont City Council meets tonight at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, One Twin Pines Lane.

bwinegarner@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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