The vacant 4-acre plot in Pittsburg that sits behind a Chevron station near California Avenue and Loveridge Road wouldn't seem to be the ideal location for a new residential neighborhood.
The Quad/Graphics commercial printing plant is close enough that you can read the signage on the building. Just to the south are the tanks, trucks and storage facilities of Praxair, an industrial gas distribution company. The Floor Club, a carpet and flooring wholesaler, is one of several tenants in an adjacent commercial complex. Trash trucks roll in and out of the Mt. Diablo Recycling Center a half-mile away.
So why did four of five City Council members recently vote to rezone the parcel from commercial to residential?
"It's just lying there fallow, and they (developer Discovery Builders) asked if they could put houses there, or at least the possibility of putting them there, so I voted yes," said Councilman Will Casey. "It's better to put something there than nothing; that's what I was thinking."
Coincidentally, that's how I decided where to place furniture in my college apartment.
In fairness, the locale is not entirely commercial. Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High School is next door, and single-family homes are to the north. Plus, Casey's vote was echoed by colleagues Pete Longmire, Sal Evola and Ben Johnson, with only Mayor Nancy Parent opposed. Still, the plot had been zoned commercial for more than 20 years.
A staff report recommended against the change, citing: 1) variance with the city's general plan; 2) an unhealthy application of "spot" zoning; 3) erosion of available commercial land; 4) no need for additional housing with more than 2,000 single-family homes recently built or under construction; 3) contradiction of the city's goal of job-housing balance.
(Attention Plan Bay Area opponents: More than 2,000 new single-family homes! Wait until plan officials hear about this.)
"The staff prepares a report based on the information they have," said Longmire, "but that doesn't mean we're always going to agree."
Those looking for the worm in this apple -- sorry, I can't help it -- will note that the developer, Discovery Builders, is owned by the Seeno family, which is known for its generous funding of election campaigns and influence on politicians. Did that factor in?
"Not as far as I'm concerned," Casey said.
"It has nothing to do with the developer," said Johnson. "It had to do with what the community needs. The community needs fair and affordable housing."
"Had it been Joe Blow down the street who can put together a nice development, I probably would have made the same decision," Longmire said.
Whether intended or not, the decision is good news for the Seenos, who, after failing for years to attract a commercial tenant now see the plot as fertile grounds for a gated community with 33 homes.
Interestingly, the loudest protests came from spokesman Randy Fischback of Dow Chemical, which operates a plant less than a mile away. Dow worries that after residents settle in, they will protest the byproducts of an industrial setting: "Those residents could move in and say, 'You know, there's a lot of noise and heavy trucks. I don't want that.'"
Johnson said nothing is finalized. The council still gets several more bites at the apple, which may or may not have a worm inside. It's hard to tell
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.