Concord could lose its influence on Naval Weapons Station

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CONCORD — The biggest housing project in East Bay’s recent history could hit another snag as negotiations between the city and its master developer appear to be on a collision course.

Concord First Partners, a development team tied to multi-generational construction companies owned by the Seeno family, wants to acquire ownership rights to the former Concord Naval Weapons Station site before committing to project details.

That way, if the city’s vision to list a quarter of the planned 13,000 homes at affordable prices doesn’t meet Concord First Partners’ profit targets, the development team can scrap the project and get reimbursed. planning fees, according to a staff member. report for city council on Tuesday.

The board can choose to either begin transferring Navy-owned property to Concord First Partners immediately and lose influence over the future of the project, or refuse the request and risk having a second master developer swoop down. move away in three years.

City officials say they were caught off guard by the maneuver after the development team agreed last year to collaborate on planning the project first and acquiring the property later.

A sale now “makes things much more complicated if our relationship were to unravel,” said Guy Bjerke, the city’s director of economic development.

And a lawsuit could be one of those complications. City officials warn in the staff report that denial of ownership rights by Concord First Partners could lead to “ownership being tied to litigation for a significant period of time.”

It would be the latest chapter in Seeno’s long history of suing public agencies and battling environmental groups to advance its many housing developments, most recently a 1,650-home project in the Pittsburg Hills that a judge stopped dead in its tracks. earlier this year.

Part of the former Concord Naval Weapons Base which comprises 2,300 acres of open land. (Steven Joseph/East Bay Regional Parks District)

In a letter sent to Bjerke late last month by team leaders Albert Seeno III, Richard Lewis and Phil Tagami, Concord First Partners begins by stating that even if it acquires the ownership rights immediately, it would not start the project without the help of the city. full approval of specific details.

But the letter goes on to note that the costs of hiring only local union workers and ensuring a high percentage of affordable housing make the project unfeasible “for any responsible development entity.”

Concord First Partners declined to be interviewed for this story, but said in an email that if the city is willing to reimburse developer costs down the line, the team is “ready to invest millions and million dollars and to devote several years to study and prepare » the details of the project.

With 13,000 homes and millions of square feet of commercial and business space, the development would be comparable in size to a brand new community in Concord.

City officials have sought for years to convert the long-decommissioned naval weapons site into housing, but on its own terms. In 2020, the board parted ways with multinational developer Lennar Corp. due to the company’s refusal to hire exclusively local unionized workers for the job.

To avoid a similar fate, the board asked Concord First Partners to sign a project working agreement before selecting it as master developer last August.

But making a quarter of housing affordable is a “lofty goal” for such a massive development, said Gloria Bruce of East Bay Housing Organizations.

“As always, we urge (the council) to think very carefully about what lies ahead for them, because it would be a real shame to lose influence at this stage,” Bruce said.

If Concord First Partners walks away from the project like Lennar did, there could also be political ramifications.

Three city council members are up for re-election this year and two of them – Carlyn Obringer and Edi Birsan – are running for a county supervisor seat in the June 7 primary.

Birsan, who said he had “full confidence” the two sides would reach an agreement, declined to say whether he would vote to grant Concord First Partners’ request, but said he sympathized with the developers.

“If they’re going to go out and drop tens of millions of dollars, what if at the end of the day we have five new board members saying, ‘No, no, we’re not going to. with these guys? said Birsan, alluding to Seeno’s bad reputation among many locals.

Bjerke also said he understands a private developer would want to protect themselves against future financial liability. But waiving property rights now could make the process “complicated and risky for the city”, particularly because Concord First Partners appeared to suggest council’s refusal could be a deal breaker, he said.

Seeno’s longtime critics — namely environmental groups — aren’t surprised by the latest twist. Save Mount Diablo, which had sued to stop the developer’s Pittsburg Hills project, said in an email that the city would face legal action if it “put all the cards in Seeno’s pockets.”

“It would be a sweetheart deal and a blank check for an untrustworthy developer,” the group said in an email.

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