Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Lewis Planned Communities create a new Villages at Fairfield community with 2,327 residences.

Article Last Updated: Wednesday, Apr 20, 2005 - 12:18:53 am PDT

A developer envisions housing and green space called the Villages at Fairfield on a large plot of land north of the city.

Housing envisioned for Tooby land

By Barry Eberling

FAIRFIELD - Northeast Fairfield is the land of rare Contra Costa goldfield flowers, vernal pools, remains of a historic cement operation and two modern cement operations.It's also the city's last major planned-growth frontier. If Fairfield is going to find new ways to combine the "smart growth" ideas in its General Plan with the modern American subdivision on a big scale, this is the location. Northeast Fairfield is a place of promise and constraints.Wanted: A developer to create a piece of suburbia that invites walking rather than driving. Just make sure those walkers avoid treading on a Contra Costa goldfield. Lewis Planned Communities will try to meet the City Council's expectations, build around the constraints and create a new Villages at Fairfield community with 2,327 residences.

"I think it will be a landmark for Fairfield," City Councilman Jack Batson said. "I think it will attract a lot of bright, modern people to it and help put Fairfield on the cutting edge of urban living."The Planning Commission and City Council on April 27 will discuss the draft environmental study on the Villages at Fairfield. They will also hold a study session on the Villages.

They meet at 7 p.m. in the council chamber at 1000 Webster St.The developer's visionLewis Planned Communities has a vision for the Villages at Fairfield that is summed up in a booklet with photographs and artist renderings.The raw material Lewis has to work with is 433 acres of land that used to be part of the Tooby cattle ranch. This land isn't in a nice, neat square, but is spread out like a lopsided "L."Lewis wants to build homes on various-size lots. It proposes parks, wetland preserves, a shopping center, a school, trails, a Linear Park bike trail extension along a railroad right-of-way and apartments.Among the key proposed features is a Homecomings apartment complex at Clay Bank Road.

But it would be unlike any apartments Fairfield has. For one thing, it would be big, with more than 600 units. Some apartments would have garages. Homecomings in other areas offer residents such benefits as field trips, a gym, a library and movie nights.An advertisement for a Southern California version calls Homecomings a "lifestyle neighborhood" where people rent instead of buy."Which means you don't have to worry about a mortgage, yard work or home maintenance and you're surrounded by more of the things that make life fun and relaxing," the advertisement said.In coming months, Lewis will try to merge its ideas for the Villages with those from a City Council that has strong ideas about growth. Smart growth in suburbiaCity Councilwoman Marilyn Farley wants the development's Laurel Creek Plaza shopping center toward the middle of the Villages. Then, along with the park and school, it would form a neighborhood hub easily reached by foot and bike. Fairfield needs to do something like this if it's serious about "smart growth," Farley said.

But the developer wants to build Laurel Creek Plaza at the corner of Air Base Parkway and Clay Bank Road. Then the supermarket, drug store, shops and gas station could easily be reached by drivers from a wide area. Batson wants walking paths and trails in the Villages. But he sees a limit to how much people will walk for chores. They'll likely drive to do such things as the weekly grocery shopping trip, he said.He sees the trails and paths as good for recreation.City Councilman Harry Price said having a good trails can make a difference for the Villages' planned elementary school. He wants parents living in the Villages to feel safe having their children bike or walk."If we do this well, we won't have a great number of concerned parents who transport their kids to school," he said. "We won't have that huge queue of station wagons and vans."Price is concerned about home prices in the Villages. "My fear is the price tag will get beyond so many people," Price said. "I hope it is affordable, whatever that means anymore, to our military community." Flowers, concrete and history.

But then there are those constraints. The northeast growth area contains some of the most significant Contra Costa goldfield populations remaining in the world, a 1994 city study said.These flowers grow near vernal pools, which are clay-lined depressions associated with such rare creatures as the vernal pool fairy shrimp. One part of the northeast growth area has about 100,000 plants.But the flower is scarcer on the 433 acres targeted for the Villages. A draft environmental study found only about 100 flowers, all in a group near the proposed shopping center. These could become part of a small preserve. Other preserves scattered amid the development would protect wetlands. "It sounds a little cliché to say it, but we've tried to take a constraint and turn in into an opportunity," said William Mellerup of Lewis Planned Communities. In this case, the opportunity is open space for the community. About 30 percent of the Villages will be open space, Mellerup said.

Then there's the area's history. Pacific Cement Co. operated a cement factory in this area from 1902 to 1928, complete with a company town. The environmental study found little left worth saving. Batson found something though. "I have a high interest in preserving the kilns of Cement," he said. These ruins have several 18-foot-high lime kilns and a 40-foot-high cylinder that may have been a chimney, the environmental study said. The site is located near Cement Hill Road and is not targeted for homes under the Lewis plan. Lewis will give the kiln site to Fairfield for a park, Mellerup said. A regional bike trail will run by the park. Mellerup talked of putting a plaque near the kilns memorializing the old cement operation.

Another challenge is two modern-day cement operations in the area. Concrush concrete recycling and Rinker Materials - formerly Solano Concrete - are located near proposed homes. A 10-foot-high masonry wall between the Concrush plant and the homes should block the noise from the cement operation, the environmental study said. An eight-foot wall will separate the homes and Rinker. Truck traffic is to use Manuel Campos Parkway."We can co-exist," Mellerup said.

Water runoff poses still another challenge. New rules by the Bay Area Regional Water Quality Control Board seek to reduce the amount of pavement in developments. The goal is to have stormwater soak into the ground where it can be filtered of pollutants, not run directly into stormdrains and, ultimately, creeks and Suisun Marsh. Villages at Fairfield is to have such features as homes with downspouts routed to vegetative areas. Stormwater is to run through grassy swales and basins. Driveways would be sloped so they drain onto the lawns, not the street. The community will be the first in Fairfield to incorporate such features on a large scale, Mellerup said."This is the test case," he said.

For now, the Villages at Fairfield remains only a vision. Now the city and developer must make certain they have a shared vision for the city's growth frontier."It's going to be a good, lively discussion," Price said.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or at beberling@dailyrepublic.net.

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