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  City Council Finally Sees the Light at Terminal 1
February 9, 2023

On Tuesday, February 7, after prolonged discussion that went on until midnight, including a 40-minute monologue by the city attorney, the Richmond City Council finally did what they should have done a year ago, just say no to what became a horrible design for a housing development at Terminal 1 proposed by a mystery man with no visible assets and no development experience. I have written about this project extensively, including four times just this year:

While I commend the City Council for finally coming to their senses, it took a more than a year and a waste of hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers money before they finally figured it out. The Design Review Board figured it out, but the City Council didn’t listen to them because I appointed them. The City Council certainly didn’t listen to me.

The months long effort to breathe life back into the moribund project was largely led by city staff lacking experience in design and real estate development and the incompetent and corrupt city attorney who died on his sword trying to save the project.

Nine years of controversy, hundreds of planned East Bay housing units—and now, nothing

Why Richmond will take a $500,000 hit to get out of waterfront property development


A former industrial plot of land is seen from this drone view along Brickyard Cove Road near Dorman Drive in Richmond, Calif., on Monday, Dec. 12, 2022. To the right is the Richmond Yacht Club. The proposed Terminal One project of 154 single-family homes over 13.8 acres of prime waterfront real estate is going back to the drawing board. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
A former industrial plot of land is seen from this drone view along Brickyard Cove Road near Dorman Drive in Richmond, Calif., on Monday, Dec. 12, 2022. To the right is the Richmond Yacht Club. The proposed Terminal One project of 154 single-family homes over 13.8 acres of prime waterfront real estate is going back to the drawing board. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

By KATIE LAUER | klauer@bayareanewsgroup.com | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: February 8, 2023 at 3:59 p.m. | UPDATED: February 9, 2023 at 7:16 a.m.

RICHMOND — A 14-acre former port terminal in the Point Richmond neighborhood will remain vacant, neglected and fenced off behind barbed wire for the foreseeable future after an upscale housing development nearly a decade in the making was shot down.

The Terminal One development — sandwiched between the Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline and Richmond Yacht Club near Brickyard Cove — was poised to transform the dilapidated, lead-contaminated property into 92 single-family detached residences, 62 duplexes and 30 junior accessory dwelling units.

But after more than five hours of discussion late Tuesday night, the Richmond City Council voted 5-1-1 to scrap the deal, require the property at 1500 Dornan Drive to be deeded back to the city, and return a $500,000 deposit for the land’s sale to the developer. Mayor Eduardo Martinez voted no, and Councilmember Melvin Willis was absent.

Working within a 75-day window the city had to back out of the land’s sale — which was rushed through in December to meet end-of-year state housing deadlines — officials decided it was too complicated to juggle the development’s design aesthetics, financial feasibility, remote location, toxic soil remediation and vulnerability to sea-level rise.

Tuesday was the final straw for Vice Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who has been following the project since the land was first eyed for development in the early 2000s and originally approved in 2014 to construct 316 condos and townhouses.

The current project lost nearly all support from Richmond’s City Council, Design Review Board, Planning Commission and community members after the developer pivoted away from its previous plans to build denser multi-family housing — claiming it was too expensive to tackle the land’s $10 million price tag and at least $21 million more for seismic improvements, soil decontamination and demolition of an existing 90,000-square-foot building onsite.

“Personally, at this point, I would very much like us to put this project behind us,” McLaughlin said during the meeting. “We don’t want to put our heads in the sand, we want to keep our eyes open. If we don’t, we are really not being responsible.”

Designed by Walnut Creek’s Laconia Development, Terminal One now joins a long list of projects in Richmond plagued by the city’s history of signing agreements that give a single developer exclusive rights to negotiate and then dragging its feet during the approval process.

Proponents of the project are left mourning the loss of a much-needed opportunity for economic development in Richmond, but opponents argued that the city was right to opt out of an unattractive project that did not contribute to the region’s affordable-housing goals.

Now that the deal has fallen through, the city-owned property will be subject to the Surplus Land Act, meaning the entire approval process will restart, with the acreage offered to roughly 500 government agencies and nonprofits to build affordable housing there.
It’s unclear if the property will also be impacted by the “Builder’s Remedy,” a state law that streamlines approvals for developments featuring at least 20% affordable housing, after the city failed to submit its Housing Element for approval by the Jan. 31 deadline.

Councilmember Doria Robinson acknowledged that Richmond’s Housing Element will not be able to include Terminal One’s more than 200 new units to help meet its regional goals of building 3,614 new homes by 2031. However, she said the site’s problems vastly outweighed any other benefits.

“The entire Bay Area needs housing, but is this the site for that?” Robinson asked. “It’s not near public transportation, there isn’t a lot of room for parking, there isn’t good evacuation planning in place, there isn’t good access, there’s the threat of climate and sea water rise, and it’s a contaminated site.

“It feels like there’s so many things wrong with this site, that we really just need to consider a different kind of project.”

Resident Jordan DeStaebler agreed, resentful that the previously proposed design was abandoned.

“This second proposal is inferior in all ways, and it looks like a piece of Modesto suburbia thrown against the Bay — I think it’s atrocious, frankly,” DeStaebler said. “Why not kill two birds with one stone and actually increase the density, but do it in a way that makes sense both aesthetically and economically?”

The mayor said that he has long opposed housing on the Terminal One property, but the development presented an opportunity for Richmond to secure the extensive funding needed to clean up the contamination — benefiting the public at large.

“I think Laconia is a ticket to that cleanup, but the question is: Is this a ticket we want to ride?” Martinez said Tuesday. “I feel that we’ve kind of boxed ourselves into a corner by declaring that surplus land, so that now we’re open to bidders wanting to build there and us not really having much recourse.”

McLaughlin said that if the city can’t come to an agreement with an affordable housing developer due to the extensive cleanup and retrofit costs, she felt confident that Richmond “can find another use” for the property.

Councilmember Soheila Bana went one step further, saying she felt optimistic that the council’s vote created several opportunities for Richmond and future developers to explore, both financially and environmentally.

“While I’m really thankful the city attorney did his best in good faith to try to bring the whole situation to a conclusion, are we on the right path?” Bana said. “We have the fiduciary duty to people of Richmond to get the most out of this deal, and it’s a precious piece of land, even though contaminated.”