Thursday, July 07, 2005

Lennar alters plans for Mare Island civilian use

By CHRIS G. DENINA, Times-Herald staff writer

If you haven't been to Mare Island in a while, you may soon begin to notice some interesting changes.

For instance, if you need to use one of the old shipyard latrine shacks, you might be out of luck because some will be gone.

The same goes for some of the old bomb shelters.

Lennar Mare Island LLC on Wednesday presented those and other improvement ideas to the Vallejo Planning Commission as part of revised plans for converting the old base to civilian use. The documents were last updated in 1999.

Lennar officials even hinted at possible new ideas, including water taxis and a permanent ferry stop at Mare Island.

Many of the new proposals discussed Wednesday stem from the Navy's seemingly haphazard way of building out Mare Island.

"What the Navy did for 150 years doesn't translate well for civilian use," said Todd Berryhill, Lennar project manager. "They put buildings down literally anywhere they could."

The military built latrine shacks and bomb shelters with little regard to placement, sometimes too close to railroads, Berryhill said. Some roads were built too narrow to meet today's traffic needs. And some areas stored explosive and hazardous materials, leaving housing - as envisioned at the base's south end in 1999 - out of the question.

The updated plans show how Lennar intends to tackle those problems, Berryhill said. For example, the developer may tear down some latrine shacks and bomb shelters, leaving some of the historic resources for future generations to see.

Some roads may be widened to allow more cars. In the past, the Navy simply designated some roads as one-way streets for workers entering the base, and reversed the flow for commuters leaving at a shift's end. And plans now show that homes once proposed in the southern area, where explosives were stored, have been shifted north closer to other neighborhoods under construction.

In six years, Lennar also has done more work in figuring out how to improve such areas as infrastructure like water mains, Berryhill said. With a better idea of how many homes vs. non-residential uses will be developed, Lennar now knows better what kinds of pipes will best serve each area.

Lennar's also added plans for things the Navy never imagined 150 years ago.

"We're going to have fiber optics going into every home," Berryhill said. The technology allows service providers to provide better cable, telephone and Internet access. About 1,400 homes are planned and the first residents began moving in last month.

In all, Lennar plans to develop about 9 million square feet of such uses as industrial, office and warehouses, city officials said. That's nearly 3 million more than planned in 1999.

But more development also means some future issues the updated plans fail to address.

For instance, the Mare Island causeway drawbridge may need improvements to accommodate the added traffic expected as more people work and live on the old base, Commissioner Gary Salvadori said.

"The more traffic the water gets, the more the bridge goes up and down," Salvadori said. That means cars must wait for ships to pass, he said.

Building a new bridge is too expensive, Berryhill said. Instead, Lennar has restricted raising the drawbridge during commuter hours, he said. Lennar is interested in bringing a water taxi to Mare Island to give visitors another point of access, Berryhill said. Such a solution may also help alleviate some concerns by businesses that view a bridge as a turnoff to potential customers, he said.

"It's a real sort of psychological barrier," Berryhill said.

Lennar also hopes to convince the city to pick up ferry passengers from Mare Island, instead of having commuters drive to the mainland to use the service, he said.

As for Mare Island's future, Lennar wants city permission to develop the north end for such uses as office space.

Commissioner Charles Legalos questioned if that and Lennar's other plans for the old base could pull visitors from the downtown, which another developer hopes to renew.

The two projects shouldn't compete, Berryhill said. But with a water taxi, maybe Mare Island residents could shop in downtown and vice-versa, he said.

It may take a decade for Lennar to carry out its plans and to see if there is a conflict.

For now, Lennar's focus includes building more houses and vying for the contract to develop the base's northern area. "We're going to be pioneering," Berryhill said of Lennar's plans for the north end.

- E-mail Chris G. Denina at or call 553-6835.

Mare Island goals include

- 1,400 units of single- and multi-family residential

- 7 million square feet of commercial space

- 8,000 jobs

- 1,400 homes

- a waterfront promenade featuring shops and restaurants

- open space such as parks

*Source: Lennar Mare Island LLC

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