July 14, 2024
The city of Concord took a big step forward Saturday in its plan to redevelop the former Naval Weapons Station site.

CONCORD — Officials have — after multiple attempts — chosen a master developer to begin the decades-long work of transforming the former Concord Naval Weapons Station into tens of thousands of homes and millions of square-feet of schools, offices, shops and restaurants.

The Concord City Council — acting as the Local Reuse Authority — unanimously approved Brookfield Properties’ massive 2,300-acre reuse plan in a four-hour special meeting Saturday.

The vision for roughly half of the existing, contaminated 5,046-acre site along the Sacramento River is a massive mixed-use and transit-oriented community — the largest development currently underway in the Bay Area.

Notably, the New York-based developer and real estate giant has agreed to designate at least 25% housing on the inland site as affordable, hire 40% of its construction workforce from within Contra Costa County and prioritize connecting the community to the nearby BART station within the first phase of construction.

The decision marks a major step forward in Concord’s goal to reinvigorate the Navy-owned property. That plan has hit numerous snags over the years, including agreements with two prospective master developers that were eventually scrapped.

Reflecting on more than a dozen different development interests that have eyed the land, Concord Mayor Laura Hoffmeister said she still believes Brookfield’s proposal is “by far the best.”

“Third time’s the charm,” Hoffmeister said Saturday while physically knocking on the council’s wooden dais. “It is a marathon and not a sprint, but we hope to be able to get to the beginning of the starting line here over the next few months.”

Josh Roden, president of Brookfield’s Northern California land and housing division, said the company collected input from more than 30 community groups and stakeholders to guide their plan and help “bring new energy and extraordinary experiences” to Concord.

“We look forward to reimagining what (the property) will become, while respecting the area plan and the countless hours that you all have invested already,” Roden said.

The project is one of the most ambitious housing proposals in the East Bay’s recent history — potentially creating a small new city within Concord that could make a serious dent in the region’s housing shortage. Additionally, the developer plans to dedicate roughly 2,600 acres of the entire Naval site as the Thurgood Marshall Regional Park.

Before the U.S. Navy eventually transfers ownership of the weapons site to the city, it will clean up toxic chemicals that leached into the ground from weapons used onsite during the mid-20th century. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency  is also assessing the soil for PFAS and other harmful substances.

Current timelines don’t project final phases of construction to be completed for another 30 to 40 years. Next steps include finalizing multiple legal agreements that will clarify the final timelines, costs and strategies to develop the land.

The council is tentatively scheduled to reconvene as the Local Reuse Authority on Sept. 19 to consider the first of those agreements.

Now more than two decades in the making, proposals for the formal Naval outpost’s future have deeply divided Concord residents. However, the only qualms expressed about the project on Saturday were fears that the developer wouldn’t live up to its promises.

“As you negotiate, you should hold Brookfield to build the maximum amount of affordable housing, to respect workers at all stages of the development – during and after construction – and to respect the city and its residents,” said Sonya Karabel, an organizer with Unite Here Local 2, which represents more than 15,000 hotel and hospitality workers in the Bay Area.. “(The council) should protect the city with strong enforcement mechanisms in case Brookfield does try to walk away.”

Brookfield’s project was the only option still on the table to discuss Saturday, after Housing America Partners withdrew its proposal for the land on Aug. 14.

While Brookfield first submitted its vision for the land in 2021, the council majority at that time was still reeling after pulling the plug in March 2020 on its partnership with the previous developer, Lennar FivePoint Corp. That company couldn’t reach key labor agreements with Contra Costa County’s Construction and Building Trades Council — one of the city’s requirements for the massive redevelopment project.

That major hiccup eventually led the council to tap local developer Concord First Partners, which was partially owned by the Seeno family — a local construction empire that has long been embroiled in familial legal feuds and accusations of financial mismanagement.

But trouble began on that proposal in May 2022, when Concord First Partners launched an unsuccessful power play to seize control of the property before any development began, which stoked the ire of the city’s leaders. Following nearly two years of negotiations, Concord officials in January ultimately voted 3-2 to scrap the developer’s plans.

The developer chosen Saturday isn’t moving forward without controversy.

Brookfield was previously in talks to develop 20 acres of BART-owned land at the agency’s seldom-used North Concord station, but abruptly walked away last year from its plan to construct 360 new homes — without providing a reason — three years after it first secured approval for the project.

But BART effectively took the North Concord station property off the market after deciding to reallocate resources to other stations, according to Guy Bjerke, Concord’s director of economic development and base reuse. Bjerke said it’s incorrect to say Brookfield walked away from those discussions because they never actually inked agreements with the regional transit agency.

Vice Mayor Edi Birsan, who has largely opposed Brookfield since 2021 and most recently renewed his skepticism after the BART fallout, expressed his support for the project on Saturday, crediting the developer’s collaboration in mitigating, explaining or improving an array of project elements.

“While there are still some valid concerns — and there always will be, in regard to what I call power relationships — I look forward to the challenge,” Birsan said. “Sometimes there’ll be tears, sometimes there’ll be cheers and sometimes people will be throwing chairs. But nevertheless, we’ll go through it, we’ll make this thing work and we’ll have a better sense of concordance in Concord.”