HJigher Purpose

The barracks pictured is among a group of eight Fort Ord-era structures on the site of Campus Town that are laden with lead, mercury and zinc and are especially costly to remove.

Kurt Overmeyer’s job is to stimulate economic growth in the city of Seaside. During a recent visit to his office, he explains his theory on how to do so with the help of a printed photograph that he keeps handy.

It’s a stock image of a beautiful urban waterfront. Multi-story buildings painted different colors are stacked next to each other and up a hillside. The streets are bustling with pedestrians. The city in the image is Porto, Portugal’s second-largest metropolis, “but it could be any number of other high-density urban areas,” Overmeyer says.

Large numbers of people living in relative proximity, he continues, is good for civic life and for commerce. “We want to create a place where many people can live,” he says. “Jobs will follow.”

Seaside, where development has been guided by the same ideas that produced California’s iconic sprawl, could come to look more like Porto in the next few years thanks to a real estate project of some 1,500 housing units that is known as Campus Town. Mixed in with the housing at Campus Town, there would be 200,000 square feet devoted to shopping, entertainment, offices, and light industrial uses. About 12 acres would be set aside for parks and open space.

With a construction cost of about $500 million, according to Overmeyer, Campus Town is one of the largest projects in the history of the region. Beyond construction, the economic contribution to the Monterey Peninsula is calculated to reach hundreds of millions of dollars.

Campus Town would be the most significant response yet to a local shortage of housing that is driving up costs and forcing many young families to move away. From student housing to row houses to single-family homes, Campus Town would feature options for every income level. “We wanted it to be attractive to everyone,” Overmeyer says, “from someone working in hospitality to titans of industry.”

Seaside City Council is scheduled to vote on the plans for Campus Town on March 5. On Feb. 12, the city’s Planning Commission voted unanimously in support of the project.

The proposed development is located south of CSU Monterey Bay and straddles Gigling Road on its northern side from General Jim Moore Boulevard to 7th Avenue, with another, narrower section of the project occupying land along Lightfighter between 1st Avenue and General Jim Moore Boulevard. The entire site is within the former boundary of Fort Ord, which the military decommissioned in 1994 before turning over the underlying land to local jurisdictions. Campus Town would replace an assortment of abandoned and toxic Army buildings.

In interviews and public meetings, city officials, the project’s architect and developer KB Bakewell say the mass appeal of the project is the product of a careful planning process that solicited community input. Overmeyer estimates that over the past couple of years, thousands of local residents participated in workshops and charrettes on the project. The commercial center of Campus Town was shifted from one end to another due to feedback received from the public.

“[Campus Town] is going to make Seaside the envy of all the Peninsula,” developer Danny Bakewell said on Feb. 12 at the Seaside Planning Commission meeting.

Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers the environment, agriculture and K-12 education, as well as Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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