Back to the Drawing Board
Marina’s University Villages slammed at semi-public hearing.
Thursday, April 8, 2004
The talk of “synergy” and “integration” and “finely-grained neighborhoods” sounded appropriately smooth during a planning meeting last week, until various Marina city commissioners started dismantling the plan for the University Villages project on Fort Ord.
In the end, the fancy lingo seemed to be merely sugar-coating for a standard-issue huge development project.
Slated for 240 acres in an abandoned slice of the old base along Highway 1, between Marina proper and the CSUMB campus, University Villages offers a soup-to-nuts business and residential development that could outshine the city itself. The idea was introduced at a large “town-hall” presentation on Feb. 24.
Last week, the development team put their ideas before the Marina Planning Commission, the Design Review Board, the Economic Development Commission and the Redevelopment Advisory Committee in a semi-advertised council chamber gathering. Some members of the city council and the public attended.
Careful to offer the plans as fluid ideas being “floated” and not firm, the developers presented their project, with hotels, a visitor center, an arts and culture district, a “large-format” (read: big-box) regional shopping center to rival Sand City, plus a smaller-scale village center, a school, a city park, a business park, a beach boardwalk, a transit station and 1,200 units of housing at varied prices.
Not only does the development team, known as Marina Community Partners LLC, want to create what’s nearly a town within a town, they want the University Villages project to put Marina on the map as a “coastal destination city.”
It sounded nice, but the commissioners were not easily satisfied.
Planning Commissioner Tim Miller, for one, wanted to know why the design did not seem to conform to the city’s Future Directions Report—planning guidelines published in May 2003 with University Villages specifically in mind.
“To me that’s a very major concern,” Miller said.
The plan’s reliance on big-box stores caused particular apprehension.
The development team includes Centex Homes and Shea Properties, two of the largest developers in the nation. According to Bob Burke from Shea Properties, who explained the retail plans, the type of stores that might go into the shopping center depend on marketplace demand. Some outlets base their locations on population, not going into cities without at least 500,000 people nearby. As of now, every type of store from books to electronics to places like Crate & Barrel remain on the table.
“We will end up talking to everyone,” Burke said.
Also somewhat critical was planning chair Gary Wilmot, who has been steady in his call for Fort Ord development to be a source of jobs and economic strength for the city.
The current proposal calls for the hill where the Fort Ord Re-Use Authority now sits to be converted to a hotel complex with a visitor center. But separating the hill from the rest of the development is the recently completed four-lane extension of Imjin Parkway, which would seem to be an impediment to visitors drawn to the visitor center who wish to access the rest of the development. Wilmot also criticized the proposed layout for the shopping center, noting the massive retail stores on far sides of a vast parking lot.
“Figure out a way to not make it a sea of cars,” Wilmot said.
Besides concerns about pedestrians trying to negotiate the trip from the visitor center, there were questions as to why the development was not more “urban,” with an emphasis on vertical construction. There were also concerns about the lack of a geographical center, what could be defined as a “town square” or plaza.
Bob Schaffer, who handles community affairs for Marina Community Partners, said the comments are already being worked over.
“They want more information and there was a lot of good input. Our people take that stuff seriously, which is why we have those events,” Schaffer says. “We’d rather have the bad news than the good news.”
University Villages is on the planning commission agenda as a discussion topic for April 8.