East Garrison Plan Draws Fire
Political opponents united in opposition.
Thursday, September 18, 2003
The Environmental Impact Report is not due out for a few months, but the County''s plan to develop Fort Ord''s East Garrison already has the City of Marina bristling.
The situation has made for some strange bedfellows: Marina Mayor Ila Mettee-McCutchon and Chris Fitz, who is deputy director of LandWatch Monterey County and a City of Marina planning commissioner, are perennial political adversaries, but they see eye-to-eye on East Garrison.
"LandWatch and Ila Mettee-McCutchon agree on this issue 100 percent," Fitz says.
Both admire the concept of turning the former training area into a progressive pedestrian-friendly community, but both oppose the plan as outlined, and for the same reasons. (The entire Marina City Council in fact is on record with significant reservations about the project.)
Located at the back northeast corner of Fort Ord, East Garrison is a military ghost town inhabited by birds and bobcats. A popular trailhead for bicyclists and runners, it features rows of deserted historic red-tile-roofed buildings, old bivouac areas, weapons ranges, motor pools, storage sheds, assembly buildings, obstacle courses and a chapel.
Woodman Development of Monterey has joined a limited liability company called East Garrison Partners and secured an option agreement with the county to convert 244 acres of the area into a "mixed-use community," built around the New Urban design concepts of walkability and social interaction by design.
According to project managers, the new settlement would eventually provide "1,470 housing units; 75,000 square feet of commercial uses; 100,000 square feet of artist/cultural/educational space in renovated historic structures [part of a creative colony known as the Arts Habitat described in Coast Weekly Aug. 21]; 11,000 square feet of public facilities and civic uses; and 45 acres of open space."
Not so fast, says Marina.
Although Mettee-McCutchon says the city finds it to be a forward-thinking project, she has major concerns about how it will affect her city.
East Garrison sits on the edge of Marina, close enough to become dependent on city services, even close enough to be considered for annexation. Mettee-McCutchon saw a presentation on the plan that Woodman gave last week, and finds its lack of space for schools troubling.
"If they intend to develop that area, which they obviously intend to do, they need to be talking to us and cooperating with us," she says, "especially when it comes to building a high school."
As it is now, the primary schools and junior high schools in Marina are at capacity, and there is no high school. Some 800 high school students commute to either Seaside High or Monterey High. With hundreds of homes planned for East Garrison, the mayor asks where those additional children are going to be taught.
Likewise, the location of the site--along Reservation Road between Marina and Salinas--raises transportation and municipal service questions.
The mayor says the plan does not mesh with the county''s own General Plan and the priorities Marina has set, which mandate city-centric development. (According to county documents, the Sierra Club raises the same concern, along with others.)
With so many people possibly living in what''s now an unsettled area, major transportation considerations arise. Both the city and LandWatch have submitted protests to the County.
"Our policy is that cities are supposed to grow, not counties, because cities provide the services," Mettee-McCutchon says. "I''m amazed with this, and they just keep moving along with it."
Ken Gray, a Marina city councilman and longtime environmental activist, says he believes that "blighted" areas of the base closer to the city should be redeveloped first, and moving ahead with East Garrison now "constitutes urban sprawl."
The county planning department received letters last week from the city, the school district, various agencies and the Sierra Club, requesting specific answers.
Vince Guarino, spokesman for the East Garrison project, seemed to be caught unaware last week by news of the opposition. On Monday, he said the development team will prepare a response to the city''s concerns, and has meetings scheduled.
For now the developers are treating Marina as another layer of jurisdiction, along with school districts, the County, the transportation district, etc.
"I think probably whatever is legitimate about their concerns needs to be addressed," Guarino says. "The whole thing has managed to go so far so fast because [the developers] have not dodged anybody in the planning of the deal."
As evidence of that, project planner Keith McCoy says the East Garrison Partners have met with representatives from the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District and plan to "work toward a mutual goal."
Besides schools and transportation, another issue being broached by Marina is the adequacy of parks. Guarino says parks are built into the design, and the project itself is adjacent to an extensive public lands trail complex maintained by the Bureau of Land Management.
"That''s part of the charm of what they''re doing out there," he says.
Likewise, East Garrison is being billed as a New Urban development that will provide services within its confines so residents won''t be forced to drive into town every time they need a jug of orange juice.
A major emphasis is being put on pedestrian and bicycle pathways and connections. Guarino says the development planners have also been consulting regularly with transportation agencies to tie East Garrison in adequately to existing roads and bus systems.
"They''re not going to build a place out there that''s disconnected from anything," he says.
Keith McCoy disputes the accusation that the location is inappropriate, calling it the "antithesis of sprawl."
The East Garrison project awaits the release of its Environmental Impact Report and the specifics of its plan. If both are approved, the developers could start working on the site, which first means extensive removal of substandard utilities and road surfaces.
LandWatch''s Chris Fitz says that while the conservation organization advocates developing Fort Ord for housing--especially affordable housing--the timing for East Garrison is not right. Furthermore, LandWatch shares Marina''s concerns, believing that the project is not in keeping with city-centric growth as called for in current planning.
"East Garrison is not a city. It''s not adjacent to a city. And it''s kind of in the middle of nowhere. We feel it''s being fast-tracked and it''s not appropriate," he says. "We are all in favor of developing East Garrison, but first things first."