Legal objection stalls vote on Benicia development rule
By Tony Burchyns
August 18, 2010
BENICIA -- A major developer has stalled a proposal that would give the city more power to exact concessions from developers of sprawling projects.
The last-minute objection came from West Coast Home Builders Inc., which is part of the Seeno family development empire.
The City Council had been set to vote Tuesday night on a proposal to subject developments of more than 40 acres -- or more than 10 acres if part of a contiguous property of 40 acres -- to a development agreement.
If passed, the law could apply to the defunct Seeno project if it ever gets back on track.
Seeno recently withdrew a hotly contested proposal for a business park near East Second Street and Lake Herman Road.
The proposed law would make large projects subject to a development contract between the city and the developer. The contract would set the rules of the game for the developer, as far as fees and approvals, for long-term projects.
As for the city, it would get stronger assurance that agreed-upon project amenities -- like bike trails and open space -- are implemented in a timely fashion as projects take shape over many years.
Council action on the proposal, however, was postponed after the law firm of Miller Starr Regalia, representing West Coast Home Builders, issued a letter of objection Tuesday.
The letter said the proposed ordinance was overreaching and "unconstitutionally vague."
"It would result in a violation of constitutional provisions limiting a local government's exercise of its police power in exacting concessions in the development approval process," the letter said.
It further stated the proposed ordinance would discourage development in Benicia "by creating additional hurdles, longer processing times, and increased up-front costs, even for smaller projects."
Rather than make any decision or debate the merits of the proposal -- which won Planning Commission backing last month -- the council agreed to give city officials until October to review the developer's concerns.
"We got it late this afternoon (Tuesday)," City Manager Jim Erickson told council members. "We can't (yet) tell you what our view is."