September 8, 2008
Hercules Council OKs Waterfront Concept, Bypassing Voters
By Tom Lochner
The Hercules City Council has approved a "New Urbanist, Smart Growth" development concept for the waterfront, eliminating the need to place the issue on the November ballot.But the unanimous vote Tuesday -- to push forward the Hercules Bayfront project consisting of more than 1,200 homes as well as restaurants, stores, offices and an intermodal transit center -- does not spell an immediate end to years of stagnation on the waterfront.
Much of the residential component won't be built until 2011 at the earliest, and then only if market conditions are opportune and there are no unexpected delays in obtaining federal, state and city permits, according to Ethan Sischo, a spokesman for developer Hercules Bayfront LLC.
Some development along Bayside Boulevard, intended as the site's commercial showcase, could occur sooner, perhaps as early as next year, according to Bayfront consultant Tom Koch.
The plan approved by the council, for 42 acres of waterfront commercial land and almost 11 acres of open space, is conceptual, and its specifics will be subject to California Environmental Quality Act review and the city's entitlement process. The council vote also approved zoning and general plan amendments.
Bayfront also will include an intermodal transit center with an Amtrak Capitol Corridor station and a ferry terminal connecting Hercules with San Francisco. When fully built out, Bayfront is supposed to have 1,224 residential units, 42,000 square feet of retail space, 81,000 square feet of offices and 134,000 square feet of "flex space" adaptable for a variety of uses.
Frustration over the slow pace of implementing the vision conceived during a 2000 planning session of a walkable, bicycle- friendly and transit-oriented waterfront with upscale restaurants and shops spawned the Waterfront Now Initiative, sponsored by Hercules Bayfront LLC with considerable community support, as a vehicle to accelerate development of the waterfront.
At Tuesday's council meeting, several council members paid tribute to the virtues of democracy and the popular vote.
But strong community support for the plan, they said, constituted a mandate to endorse it without putting it on the ballot.
In just three weeks of circulating petitions, supporters gathered signatures of about 25 percent of Hercules' registered voters, according to the Contra Costa County Elections Office.
"It has long been clear to us that the Hercules community have reached near-consensus on the proposed development," residents Susan Fuerstenberg and Jeff Boore wrote in a letter read by resident Bill Prather. The three are the signatories of the Notice of Intention to Circulate Petition filed with the City Clerk on May 28.
Councilwoman Charleen Raines called the ordinance "a no- brainer."
"We really haven't heard any opposition," she said.
Councilman Ed Balico made the motion, with Raines' second, to adopt the initiative by ordinance.
The ordinance does not require a second reading and approval, City Attorney Mick Cabral said, explaining the circulation of the petition acted as the introduction.
"So this is in effect your second reading and adoption," Cabral said.
Reach Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760 or [email protected]
Originally published by Tom Lochner, West County Times.
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