Monterey Mattress teams with green architecture firm to envision a Fort Ord “eco-village.”

Architect Safwat Malek hopes to turn this blight into a thriving eco-village. “Why tear down these oak trees if you’ve got acres of concrete, sitting there?” he says.

Safwat Malek calls it a dream site: More than 18 acres on the former Fort Ord that he wants to transform into a “live-work eco-village.”

“There’s an existing building and blighted land that’s crying out for tender loving care,” says Malek, the president of green architectural firm Enviro-International. “It’s the perfect canvas for visionary development.”

Malek’s got a local manufacturing partner in Monterey Mattress Company, which hopes to expand its 12-person Sand City operation to a factory that will anchor the proposed eco-village at the intersection of Imjin Road and Eighth Street in Marina. 

Monterey Mattress owner Brian Gingerich estimates that his company, along with Hanestic Bedding Products, Inc., will create 200 jobs for the city of Marina. Meanwhile, Malek and Pete Ericksen, a realtor for local real estate company Cassidy Turley, are drawing up plans for 47 on-site townhomes and 84 apartments for the workers. 

A small-scale renewable energy project with the eco-village and UC Santa Cruz’s adjacent Baskin Engineering School is also in the works. In an April 15 letter to Malek, professor Michael Isaacson wrote: “Your project aligns with our intention to study and optimize renewable energy microgrid systems in real-world environments.”

The proposal also includes a 19,900-square-foot retail building set to include a co-op market, coffee shop and sports center, and projected to employ 100 people. Malek hopes the development also attracts students from the nearby CSU-Monterey Bay campus.

“This is about debunking the ‘way we have always done it’ philosophy, that we live in tract developments and have to drive everywhere,” Malek says. “We can live and work and shop without a car.” 

The city of Marina’s Economic Development Commission favorably received a presentation by Malek earlier this month, and the City Council in multiple May closed sessions indicated its willingness to entertain an exclusive agreement with the eco-village group. 

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At the same time, however, the city is trying to push through a truncated, 90-day negotiating process because there’s another development team presenting a competing proposal for a portion of the same parcel.

“The council wanted to do this in limited scope to say, ‘Let’s figure it out in a small amount of time so the other developer doesn’t go away,’” says Debbit Platt, the city’s development project manager. Neither she nor Malek would reveal the name of the other developer, citing confidential negotiations.

Nearly 50 people turned out on June 13 for a presentation of the eco-village proposal, hosted by Citizens for Sustainable Marina, at the Marina Municipal Airport. Among those present were Councilmembers David Brown and Frank O’Connell and CSUMB spokesperson Justin Wellner.

“Marina has a real opportunity to set a national example for sustainable development that benefits the local economy,” says Luana Conley, head of Citizens for Sustainable Marina.

Malek estimates the eco-village would generate anywhere from $7 million to $11.5 million in tax revenue for the city. “We’re bringing local manufacturing into this community, instead of another Dunes,” he says, referencing the big-box shopping center off of Reservation Road. 

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