Park agency considers using eminent domain: San Francisco (CA) Chronicle, 10/29/05

Developer balks at selling parcel for $4.9 million

By Patrick Hoge

The East Bay Regional Park District wants to use eminent domain to acquire 238 acres of land on the Richmond shore, picking a fight with a landowner who's promised the agency some of the land and city officials who say their authority is being usurped.

The district says the marshland at the edge of San Pablo Bay must be protected from a 1,092-unit housing development proposed for a section of the parcel, and its board is expected on Tuesday to consider moving unilaterally to acquire the land for $4.9 million.

The landowners, Don and Lonne Carr and a partnership they manage, said they're happy to give the district more than 170 acres of the land at no cost, set aside another 19 acres as open space and create an endowment to maintain the land.

"They (park officials) seem intent on spending millions of dollars when they can accomplish the purpose of having trails for free,'' said Sean O'Connor, the Carrs' Orange County attorney.

Park officials say they have no choice but to take all of the land, with views of Mount Tamalpais and Marin County, because the Carrs are pushing a "silly" project that is far too large.

The proposed development would harm habitat for several protected species, such as the salt marsh harvest mouse and the California clapper rail, said Bob Doyle, assistant general manager of the park district's land division. It also could prevent construction of a portion of the San Francisco Bay Trail, he said.

"It's just ridiculous," Doyle said. "It's almost insulting. They (the developers) know darn well they've picked a fight. We didn't pick a fight."

The district has long made it clear that it wanted to annex the land, which is adjacent to Point Pinole Regional Shoreline.

Doyle said the parks district was willing to accept commercial or industrial development on almost 20 acres of the land, as allowed under the city of Richmond's general plan — a document the district helped write. The rest of the land is zoned for community and regional recreational use.

The Carrs, however, have proposed a project they call the Parkway Transit Village — the transit element, as yet unidentified, is to come later — and have asked the city of Richmond to amend its general plan and rezone part of the land to allow for residential development.

The city has not approved the proposal, but both the City Council and the city Redevelopment Agency have officially opposed the district's use of eminent domain, raising the possibility of a lawsuit should the district move unilaterally to take the land. City officials said such a move would undermine their authority to regulate land use within the city.

Project manager Stan Davis said the development would occupy just 68 acres far from the marsh, with 19 of those acres devoted to open space, including the Bay Trail. The developers also would create wetlands and restore a creek now used as a flood control ditch, he said.

But parks district officials say so much of the land is environmentally sensitive that the Bay Trail most likely could be located only on land that the Carrs' proposed development would occupy.

That is "a major, major constraint of any development, certainly on the scale of anything that these current applicants are proposing,'' said Ted Radke, a member of the parks district's Board of Directors who walked the property with the project architect recently.

Radke said he "remained pretty unconvinced that they're going to be able to get anything like what they are talking about through the (state and federal environmental) regulatory agencies.''

Jean Siri, another board member, was more blunt.

"We're going to vote to acquire it as a necessary piece of property for us, so that will take care of it," Siri said. "Who wants condominiums? It's the edge of a marsh."

The developers have "spent a lot of money doing up all these pretty plans and pretty pictures. They don't like to give in, but I've told them there's not a chance in hell" they will succeed, she said.

Davis, who said the Carrs did not want to be interviewed, said the property is worth significantly more than the $4.9 million the district has offered. The owners bought the land for about $3 million in 2000, but have spent more than $6 million improving it, he said.

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 California eminent domain