Seeno plan too flawed for Benicia
By JESSICA A. YORK Staff Writer

October 9, 2008

Council votes 3-2 to bar development

BENICIA - A weary City Council voted down a controversial business park development early Wednesday morning, and officials were already considering the project's next step by that afternoon.

Developers for the rejected industrial and commercial development on 528 acres in northeast Benicia were assailed with strong public concerns that the project would result in health and safety impacts too numerous to mitigate.

The 3-2 vote against the project was taken shortly after 1 a.m.. The roll call came only minutes after the developer made concessions to reduce traffic, air pollution and other possible project impacts and promised to push for high-tech, environmentally friendly businesses to locate in the business park.

Mayor Elizabeth Patterson said, however, she could not support the project because of what she called a "flawed" process. Earlier in the debate, she said Benicia deserved an "A-plus" project, and this one merited only a "C."

Joining Patterson were Vice Mayor Tom Campbell and Councilman Mike Ioakimedes. Supporting the project were council members Mark Hughes and Alan Schwartzman.

Patterson said late Wednesday afternoon that she did not consider the no vote a victory.

"This was, take a deep breath and get back to the drawing table," Patterson said.

The mayor said she would like Discovery Builders representatives to meet with city staff and council representatives to figure out the next step.

"People are totally engaged with the prospect of having this green gateway - it's a wonderful opportunity," Patterson said. "What we need to do is not lose the momentum and we can do this in a fairly short time because so much work, so much good work, has been done ..."

The project's main environmental study, approved in February, will not need to be thrown out with the plan's denial, Patterson said.

Salvatore Evola, Discovery Builders vice president, said Wednesday that he had no comment and that the company did not yet know its next move.

Though a motion to approve various environmental documents and the project plan failed to receive majority approval, the project is not official denied yet. At a coming meeting, council members will be asked to vote on a resolution to official deny the project, including a list of the city's findings to back the move.

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.

If the council's action is challenged in court, a judge could force the city to go forward with the project, said City Attorney Heather McLaughlin. On a project of this size, though, McLaughlin said judges are more likely to take smaller steps, such as requiring more environmental review or public hearings.

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