At the heart of the city of Marina, hidden behind trees and surrounded by wire fencing, there’s a long-neglected gem: Cypress Knolls. A neighborhood from the former Fort Ord, it’s 188 acres that now looks like a post-apocalyptic town, with 260 rotting or burned homes decorated with different styles of graffiti.
“That is probably the most valuable remaining property that the city has,” City Manager Layne Long said during a March 30 special meeting to receive an update on Cypress Knolls and continue discussing the city’s strategic plan and work plan priorities.
Cypress Knolls sits close to The Dunes and Sea Haven developments, the Marina Shopping Center, Marina High School and Highway 1, making it “an important future connection between all the new developments,” Councilmember Kathy Biala says.
Cypress Knolls been in the city’s crosshairs since the late ’90s, but has remained stagnant for more than two decades. Mayor Bruce Delgado says back then, the city council had two options: To restore the houses and move people in or rebuild it all together. They opted to rebuild.
“We went through a few developers that just didn’t work out,” Delgado says.
One of those developers proposed in 2006 to turn Cypress Knoll into a 722-unit senior community, but the project didn’t go through because of the Great Recession. It’s a project Delgado says might be reconsidered, but not all of it would be dedicated to senior housing.
Despite Cypress Knolls having been on the back burner, the area remains coveted by developers. Delgado says in the past five years, the city received at least three development proposals for the property, but it didn’t move forward. “We didn’t have the bandwidth. We didn’t have enough people or time,” he says.
Now, even though the area has become a priority, the city will have to wait a couple of years before accepting any proposals, because city staff is focusing first on updating the city’s general plan.
Delgado says it could take between $15 million and $18 million to tear down all the buildings that still stand. He says the city might tear them down in phases, but they haven’t discussed or approved a plan for the entire property yet. “It’s easier to do a piece to get our feet wet,” Delgado says, “to get going on it and get some cash flow in order to do another piece.”
On March 15, the council allocated $1.6 million to tear down 31 buildings – those closer to Marina High School on Rendova Street – to make it safer for students to get to school.
“I’d like it to be built sooner than later, because it’s dividing our town in half,” Delgado says. Biala and Delgado say they would like a sustainable development project and affordable housing on the site. Long said the city has to carefully plan Cypress Knolls development, prioritizing quality of life and sustainable growth, and get the community engaged in the project.
The planning process could take anywhere from nine months to two years.