Monday, April 10, 2006
Lennar learning from base projects
Lennar Corp. has taken a page from its Bay Area projects for Great Park building.
By JEFF ROWE
The Orange County Register
Last year when Lennar Corp. presented its preliminary plans for the approximately 2,200 acres it will develop as part of the Great Park at the old El Toro air base, the scattered audience in the Irvine council chambers watched with the polite detachment expected of people watching a documentary, a play or a tennis match.
Redeveloping bases is a bit different in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Every step of Lennar's plans for the three bases the company is developing there has been subject to intense discussion, debate and wrangling over environmental, political, economic and social issues and even ethnic considerations.
In Orange County, the only real issue at El Toro was "airport or something else?" At Tustin, the biggest stumbling block was a debate over how much land the Santa Ana Unified School District ought to get.
Consider Hunters Point, an old Navy base in San Francisco closed 31 years ago. Various proposals fluttered and died and the community in the area grew distrustful anything would happen for the good.
But Lennar is grading the hilly old base now and by late next year houses are expected to begin sprouting. Under its agreement with the city, 30percent of the housing will be designated for lower-income people. That's twice what Irvine and Tustin will be expected to provide at the old Tustin and El Toro air bases.
Lennar also is under pressure to create jobs at Hunters Point.
At Mare Island, a 5,000-acre base near Vallejo, about 30 miles north of San Francisco, job creation also was an issue – but so is preservation of many of the buildings on the base, which opened in 1854. Except for the blimp hangars at Tustin, the buildings at the two Orange County bases evoke little sentiment and don't cry out for preservation.
Employment is a big issue at Hunters Point and Mare Island, where thousands of jobs were lost when the bases closed. In Orange County, the jobs lost at Tustin and El Toro were replaced in the frenzied expansion of the late 1990s. Both bases closed in 1999.
As if the economic and preservation concerns were not challenge enough, two of the three Bay Area bases are dealing with environmental challenges that are considerably more severe than at Tustin and El Toro, where the big scrubbing task at both bases involves pumping up water from underground aquifers contaminated with solvents used to clean aircraft.
Hunters Point's environmental problems were a big hurdle in getting development cleared. Among the activities at the base was ship breaking, the process of cutting up, recycling and reusing old ships.
The Navy already has spent about $400million in environmental cleanup at Hunters Point, twice what is expected to be spent at El Toro. Mare Island suffered from the pollution residue of the 513 ships built there, the ammunition made there and the fuel, batteries and other pollutants that were used.
Treasure Island was mostly used for training, but to make its plan work there, Lennar wants to cut a harbor into the island for ferries to dock.
Lennar also is advancing plans for the old Northern California bases:
At Treasure Island, it wants to minimize dependence on cars. All services will be within a 10-minute walk from the housing area. A 20-acre organic farm is planned for the man-made island.
On Yerba Buena Island, the hilly, natural island to which Treasure Island was connected, the company plans a wellness center and a health spa. Single-family homes also are expected to be built.
30 percent of the housing at Hunters Point must be deemed "affordable."
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Lennar learning from base projects
ACCEPTING THE CHALLENGE: Lennar Mare Island has been formulating a reuse plan for this dry dock at the old Navy base on Mare Island near Vallejo, one of three Bay Area bases the company is redeveloping.
JEFF ROWE, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Here's what Lennar executives in Northern California say they learned from creating plans for the three bases and then proceeding to build.
Environmental - Be flexible in dealing with the sometimes different demands of the federal and state regulators.
Political/social - In a diverse community, demands can conflict. Lennar executives in the Bay Area have attended so many community meetings to sift plans for the base that they lost count. Look for creative solutions.
Economic- Press for changes in the plan when the economy shifts. Apartments may have been a smart construction bet five years ago, but now condos are a smarter business move.
Preservation- Some can be passionate about preserving certain buildings on old bases.
"It's a learning curve all the way," says Tom Sheaff, Lennar's regional vice president at the Mare Island base.
Lennar gets good grades from city officials and community leaders in the Bay Area.
Michael Cohen, San Francisco's director of base reuse and development, has been working with Lennar for seven years.
"I've watched them evolve – they were a 'sticks and bricks' homebuilder, and now they have become a very sophisticated urban infill developer," he said.
Here is what's planned for the three San Francisco Bay Area bases.
Hunters Point: 500 acres, 1,238 dwellings planned on the first parcel (66 acres); six acres of community facilities and 25 acres of open space, including what will be called the International African Marketplace.
Treasure Island: 484 acres, 5,500 for-sale and rental units within 12-minute walk of a planned ferry, 15 historic buildings to be reused, organic farm, wind turbines, marina, retail center.
Mare Island: 5,000 acres (650 has been transferred to Lennar Mare Island), 70 businesses in old base buildings occupy about 3million square feet, about 1,500 employed, 8,000 to 10,000 jobs projected at build-out.
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