Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Touro's 'Village' Concept Praised

Touro's 'Village' Concept Praised
By SARAH ROHRS/Times-Herald staff writer

With high-tech jobs, research facilities and retail centers, several residents said Thursday that Touro's "university village" on Mare Island's north end is an exciting prospect for Vallejo.

Some speakers at an informational meeting tempered their enthusiasm with concerns about traffic, public transportation and plans to turn Railroad Avenue and Azuar Drive into six-lane thoroughfares.

The Greater Vallejo Recreation District's board president, Dale Welsh, also said that agency wants a bigger voice in planning the development, citing the community's desire for a sports complex on Mare Island.

Touro's ambitious plans for the 191-acre parcel on Mare Island's north end drew nearly 50 people to the JFK Library gathering. University officials and several consultants presented the plan and answered questions about the parcel bordered by Azuar Drive, the Mare Island Strait, G Street and Highway 37. The latter will get a new interchange if plans go forward.

The "university village" project would include a health and science campus, a neighborhood park, bookstores and cafes, a hotel, wetlands management and waterfront parkway, a community center, plus student and faculty housing. About 20 abandoned buildings would be razed.

Touro Vice President Richard Hassel said an announcement is weeks away on an anchor tenant, which will have a "world impact" in science and health fields. The firm, he said, represents the cutting edge in cancer treatment and research. He added it will attract numerous large bio-technology firms eager to be near the facility.

Touro officials said the project could cost up to $500 million.

The university operates its current 44-acre campus on the island's south end.

Several Mare Island residents expressed concerns about traffic, and asked if another entrance is being planned.

"We want this to happen, but traffic has to be thought about," said Mare Island resident Fiona Varley. She said cars now back up on the island as they try to enter Highway 37.

Touro students Sarah Nangle and Hami Ramani both urged the plans include more public transportation, bike ways to reduce traffic impacts.

City planning manager Don Hazen said a third entrance is not planned. He added the city already considered Mare Island traffic increases when it signed off on environmental documents several years ago. Touro's plans do not exceed traffic conditions outlined in those environment reports, and will not trigger more studies, he said.

The city is under a six-month obligation to negotiate exclusively with Touro for parcel plans. In early summer, council members will consider endorsing Touro's general plans which would trigger creation of more specific plans, said city economic development director Susan McCue.

Contact Sarah Rohrs at srohrs@thnewsnet.com or 553-6832.

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