Benicia council rejects Seeno business park plan
By Jessica A. York
Vallejo Times Herald

October 8, 2008

BENICIA A weary City Council early Wednesday morning rejected a 528-acre business park development amid concerns that its health and safety drawbacks were too numerous to overcome.

The 3-2 vote was taken shortly after 1 a.m. despite last-minute developer concessions to reduce traffic, air pollution and promises to seek high-tech businesses for the project.

The Benicia Business Park, an industrial and commercial venture, has undergone intense resident scrutiny over the past several years. Public distrust of the site developer's parent company has been acknowledged as a stumbling block by both the city and applicant, Discovery Builders, an affiliate of Concord-based Seeno Homes.

The city, residents and Discovery Builders representatives had all intimated that a legal challenge could follow whatever decision the council made.

Mayor Elizabeth Patterson said Benicia deserved an "A-plus" project, and this one merited a "C."

Supporting the project were council members Mark Hughes and Alan Schwartzman. Joining Patterson in opposition were members Mike Ioakimedes and Tom Campbell.

On Tuesday night, dozens of speakers were directed to keep their comments more than two hours' worth related to a supplemental traffic study the council sought in June. The city sought the study after it agreed it had not had enough time to consider the project.

The study indicated that the business park would draw thousands of additional cars each day to East Second Street north of Military West.

That led several speakers to argue that the project area would exacerbate existing air pollution problems and lead to the type of traffic jams rarely seen in this city.

The city's school district leaders were among the foes, having agreed during a closed meeting earlier in the evening that traffic, noise and pollution would endanger the health and safety of students at Robert Semple Elementary School.

Attempts to get Discovery Buildings to commit to an air filtration system, insulated windows and a sound wall at the school were unsuccessful, board president Rosie Switzer told the council.

Later, Discovery Builders vice president Salvatore Evola agreed to the district's demands and, shortly before the vote, committed to other conditions council members proposed.

During a public hearing in advance of the council vote, project opponent Roger Straw, a representative of the resident group Green Gateway, envisioned a "big city" future for Benicia, where traffic jams, a "brown haze" and a steadily declining downtown would become the norm.

Speaking in support was former Solano County Economic Development Corporation head Brooks Pedder, who said the project offered an opportunity to attract high-end businesses to the county. Pedder also is a managing partner of Colliers International, a commercial real estate firm.

City staff reported the project would affect regional air pollution. Knowing that "requires the city to balance the benefits of the project as a whole against this environmental impact," the staff report said.

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