Friday, October 24, 2003

Proposed 450-home development on the border of Vallejo and Benicia

THE BORDONI RANCH on Columbus Parkway may be annexed by Vallejo and developed into about 450 single-family homes. Photo: J.L. Sousa/Times-Herald

Vallejo eyes development deal

By MATTHIAS GAFNI, Times-Herald staff writer

A proposed 450-home development on the border of Vallejo and Benicia would destroy a natural boundary between the neighboring cities, the Benicia mayor said Thursday.

A Danville developer has a deal to buy Bordoni Vineyards, Vallejo's only family-owned winery, and develop the 185 acres of unincorporated Solano County land into single-family homes. The Bordoni Ranch - which lies east of Columbus Parkway, between Benicia Road and Highlands Park - would need to be annexed to Vallejo before being built up.

With two measures regarding growth on the Benicia November ballot, mayor Steve Messina said this proposed development is a hot button issue and would constitute urban sprawl.

"We're trying to maintain some greenbelt between the two communities and it looks like another area of open space is being built out," Messina said. "I'm always antsy when it's so close to both communities. I want to keep the individual cities with their own identities.

"That's a relatively large development and that greatly decreases the separation between Vallejo and Benicia," Messina said. "It's specifically a hot topic over here because of the ballot measures."

Messina referred to Measure K and M. Measure K is a no-growth initiative which would restrict Benicia city services from beyond city limits and Measure M would prohibit residential growth past city limits, except for recreational purposes. Both target the area where Benicia rubs up against Sky Valley.

Vallejo Planning Manager Brian Dolan said the Bordoni Ranch development would still leave a greenbelt.

"Their submittal honors the buffer policy. They've left open space between the edge of the property and the city limits," he said.

In fact, Dolan added, "it's more ample in many cases than Benicia's Southampton development."

Benicia has homes along Rose Drive, just over the hill from Bordoni Ranch.

In August, the City Council voted to go ahead with an Environmental Impact Report on the property, with developer Braddock & Logan Inc. paying the $267,000 fee. The report, the first step for the developer, should be completed in April 2004.

Braddock & Logan still must get general plan amendment, zoning map amendment, planned development, tentative map and annexation approvals.

"They've submitted a bunch of material, but we're probably nine months to a year from any public hearings," Dolan said.

The annexation process could take some time.

"They need approval of the city and (Solano Local Agency Formation Commission). Typically, if it's in the sphere of influence and designated as residential, it's unlikely to be controversial," Dolan said. "But the specifics of the project may be more controversial.

"The number of units, the potential for traffic it would create, visual impacts, the implementation policy Vallejo has for development near the city of Benicia" are possible obstacles, Dolan said.

"The adjoining neighbors have lived next to this privately owned open space for a long time and they probably have come to think of it as open space forever."

According to the city's General Plan, the area is already zoned as residential, despite its unincorporated status. Dolan said that's done in "anticipation of future annexations."

Solano County Planning Manager Mike Yankovich said LAFCO has already approved Vallejo's Comprehensive Annexation Plan which details that annexation, along with two other portions of land.

"Basically, all of the areas that are not part of the city but within the city of Vallejo are marked as annexed to the city," Yankovich said.

The two other unincorporated Vallejo parcels that are scheduled to be annexed at some point are an area west of Interstate 80, between Curtola Parkway and Benicia Road, and an area east of I-80, between I-780 and Benicia Road.

Solano LAFCO Executive Officer Shaun Pritchard said his office has not received an annexation application from Vallejo. Once received, his department would prepare a report on the property and the commissioners would either approve, approve with restrictions or deny the annexation.

Appropriate buffers between cities would be an issue commissioners consider, Pritchard said.

Jim Bordoni, 50, owner of Bordoni Vineyards, said it was a matter of time.

"I think it's inevitable. My understanding is the city has always seen it as developable land," Bordoni said. "It's just one of the last ranches swallowed up by development.

"It's always sad. But I don't live in the area anymore. It's a difficult thing to manage," said the Los Altos resident.

Bordoni's parents, Raymond and Catherine, bought the property in 1948 to raise cattle and sheep.

Recently, Bordoni maintains two acres of Chardonnay grapes and leases out the rest of the ranch for cattle and horse grazing.

Mayor Messina hopes Bordoni can continue his wine-making. He said he's frustrated that Benicia's limited growth measures, even if they pass, may not matter.

"We can put a wall around our own city, but it doesn't mean someone else won't encroach into the space anyway," he said.

Meanwhile, after tending to his grapes Thursday, Bordoni waxed nostalgic.

"This could be our last harvest," Bordoni said, "or there could be a couple more?"

- E-mail Matthias Gafni at or call 553-6825.

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