Happy Trails

Standing at the end of Carmel Avenue, Fred Watson, right, and Scott Waltz explain their vision to connect the Peninsula: “One of the things we bring is regional thinking,” Waltz says.

On a recent afternoon, two construction workers lay down cement for a curb just past the intersection of Carmel and Salinas avenues in Marina. The workers stand on dirt, just past a chain-link fence with a sign that reads: “No trespassing, please.”

The workers may not be aware of the curb’s significance, but they are laying the groundwork for a key piece of infrastructure that will connect Marina like never before.

For the last 12 years, a 248-acre site in southern Marina – one partially bound by Imjin Parkway and California Avenue – has been surrounded by that chain-link fence. But over the course of 2016, that’s set to change.

Dirt is finally starting to move again in Marina Heights, a housing development slated to bring 1,050 single-family homes to the city. The project went dormant seven years ago due to the recession.

“It’s time to gear up and get going,” says Chuck Lande, the Southern California developer behind the project.

Lande’s project was approved by Marina in March 2004, and by the end of 2007, his company – Cypress Marina Heights LP – had demolished 164 blighted structures on the site and built 90 percent of the infrastructure for the project’s first 299 homes. In the next few months, Lande expects to finish the last 10 percent of that infrastructure and demolish the 46 blighted buildings remaining on the property.

That infrastructure will also provide the city a key connection that’s long been lacking – bicycle and pedestrian pathways from central Marina to the Fort Ord National Monument.

The connectivity piece is the brainchild of CSU Monterey Bay professors Fred Watson and Scott Waltz, who for the last two and a half years have been developing a plan of regional bike pathways called Fort Ord Rec Trail and Greenway (FORTAG).

When the two caught wind that Marina Heights was back on the move, they sought out Lande to ensure his project would align with their vision.

“One thing about people in [development],” Watson says: “They have no trouble speaking to the value of a regional trail system.”

In the FORTAG plans, which lay out a network of pathways from Marina to Del Rey Oaks, three bike and pedestrian corridors cross through the 248-acre Marina Heights site.

In the next six months, Lande’s company will complete the first pieces of the FORTAG network, one that includes 30 miles of interconnected pathways.

“This is going to be one of the best trails in the nation,” Watson says.

FORTAG’s progress has not come easily: Watson and Waltz estimate they’ve put 3,000 hours into the plans.

The two continue to meet regularly with developers and cities to ensure that proposed projects align with the greater network, but they say the key to completing FORTAG – which they estimate will take 10-15 years and cost up to $40 million – is getting it included on a ballot measure being put forth by the Transportation Agency for Monterey County in November 2016.

So far, the two say, local officials and developers have been unanimously supportive of the project.

“It’s a positive asset to the community,” Waltz says. “All of a sudden, [it’s being] reframed as something that has economic value.”

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