Thursday, September 20, 2007

Benica Council OKs First Street Development

Benica Council OKs First Street Development
By SARAH ROHRS/Times-Herald staff writer
Vallejo Times Herald

BENICIA - Construction can finally begin on a First Street development dogged with city appeals.

The City Council Tuesday unanimously passed a settlement agreement to erase legal challenges against the 221 First St. project.

The dispute has pitted former Mayor Jerry Hayes against current Mayor Steve Messina, a partner in the development with his cousin Manuel Lopes. Messina abstained since he has a financial interest.

"We all need to move past this and get on with our lives," said Vice Mayor Alan Schwartzman.

Councilmember Elizabeth Patterson said she hopes all parties can put the issue behind them. "I hope, at the end of the day, it's something we can put in the past and we can enjoy an improved downtown."

No one from the public spoke, though all parties were in the audience. City Attorney Heather McLaughlin said they had signed the accord and all that remained was City Council approval.

The settlement calls for two more commercial buildings on West C Street which will reduce parking spaces. Project proponents will also need to use rip rap along the waterfront to control erosion, though they would have preferred not using rocks.

Further, some planning staff will be required to attend Bay Conservation District Commission training. The city also will forgive some building fees, and not require project backers to undergo lengthy approvals on the C Street commercial areas.

In exchange, Hayes and Friends of Old Town agree to drop all current and not raise future objections against 221 First St.

An injunction against the project came after Hayes and FOOT sued the city this year, charging a building permit was improperly issued. However, the injunction was lifted when Hayes refused to post a bond.

In other matters, about 40 young skateboard riders crowded into Council Chambers to give a strong show of opposition against possible plans to close the skateboard park in Willow Glen Park on East Seventh Street.

Young riders said closing the downtown park would be unfair to many riders who will be unable to get to the new skateboard park opening in Benicia Community Park in Southampton. Parks department director Mike Alvarez said the parks commission earlier made a recommendation to close the Willow Glen skate area when the new X-Park opens.

The council will consider the issue in late October or early November. The new X Park is slated to open Oct. 6.

Contact Sarah Rohrs at or 553-6832.

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