By John Crowder
At their June 24 meeting the Antioch City Council heard a presentation, and numerous citizen objections, on a proposed transit oriented residential development project for downtown Antioch.
City Manager Steve Duran provided the council with information supporting the authorization he was seeking to send out a “Request for Qualifications and Proposals to initiate the solicitation process for a development team to develop a residential transit oriented/infill project on sites owned by the City of Antioch.”
“The sites are located on the east end of Antioch’s historic downtown and the development proposal is to include the construction of a new 10,000 square foot Senior Center on a city owned site to be determined,” Duran stated
The proposal calls for the solicitation of a “highly qualified development team” to essentially construct townhouses or similar “medium-density residential” properties on the east end of downtown, immediately adjacent to the Rivertown Business District.
According to Duran, this is an “opportune time to move forward aggressively with what will be a catalyst project for downtown revitalization” because the city controls the sites in question and there is currently an upturn in the housing market.
Duran indicated that the Planning Commission considered rezoning the area to higher density at 20 units per acre, but wanted to see a development proposal prior to making such a recommendation.
Duran called the area in question, “the one opportunity for a catalyst project that can move forward quickly.” He cited, as support for this contention, the location of the area, adjacent to the Rivertown Business District and with great river views, the fact that the city owned the sites and could move the project forward without assembling parcels, and the currently favorable economy.
“If we want to get going on downtown revitalization, now is the time,” Duran added.
Members of the public speaking before the council on the matter, however, expressed opposition to the proposal. Fred Hoskins objected to the plan to tear down the current senior center in order to obtain more land for the project and to construct a new center elsewhere.
“I don’t find our senior center inadequate,” he said. “The only thing that I find at the senior center that needs improvement is the kitchen.”
Kerry Motts, President of the Rivertown Preservation Society also opposed the project.
“[It's| time to consider the views and desires of the community,” he stated “That is the opposite of what has happened.”
He characterizing the parcel at the corner of 3rd and E street, known as the old Antioch lumber company property, as, “arguably the most valuable piece of property in the city of Antioch.”
“It has a singularly unique view, and access to the river delta, as well as being within a block of Antioch’s founding site. It sits at the heart of every event that has ever occurred in Rivertown. This property deserves to be a shared property of all the citizens of Antioch, not just the lucky few who would be residents,” he added.
Instead of housing, Motts wanted to see a park built there.
Joette Bright, a member of the Arts and Cultural Foundation of Antioch, echoed Motts’ concerns and request for a park. She quoted extensively from sections of the General Plan regarding development of the downtown area.
“Housing is not a legacy anyone will remember you for,” she implored. “Set aside this parcel for posterity,”
Antioch School Board President Joy Motts, a lifelong resident of Antioch and Rivertown added her thoughts.
“I’m extremely concerned about the City of Antioch’s proposal for the development of both the senior center parcel and the adjacent vacant parcel located at 2nd and E Street for the plans for high density housing,” she said.
She added that the RPS group had reached out to the city to talk abut downtown plans, but they were rebuffed.
“Not one person from the City of Antioch has reached out to the Rivertown community for any discussion about this development,” Motts stated.
With reference to the vacant lot at 2nd and E Street, she noted the great view from the property.
“It is surrounded by homes that also have that wonderful view. Many of these homes that surround that parcel have been there for over 80 years. It is the wish of these homeowners and the Rivertown community that this view be protected, not only for ourselves, but for the citizens of Antioch,” Motts continued. “A park on this property could host community events.”
She name several such possibilities, from summer concerts to farmer’s markets. She stated that a park on the site would provide a reason for people to purchase homes in Rivertown.
Chris Valenta, with the best reference to classic European literature we’ve seen in a while, stated that developing the vacant lot east of E Street would be, “like selling your soul to the devil.” He called the parcel, “Antioch’s heritage,” and stated that it should be developed in a way that would, “be a tribute to our veterans.”
John Reynolds also objected to further housing development, commenting that there is “nothing to do” in the downtown area.
Following the community input, council members asked further questions of Duran. Mayor Wade Harper asked about meetings with the Rivertown group, Duran responded that he had met with them once.
“We can do all the outreach in the world, it’s not going to get the downtown revitalized,” he added.
Mayor Pro Tem Mary Rocha was particularly concerned that the community have input into any proposed development. In response to questions raised by Rocha, Duran conceded that something the neighborhood could use might be included in the project, but remained adamant that the area being discussed was the wrong location for a park.
Council Member Monica Wilson asked if it was cost prohibitive to continue operating the senior center. Duran told her that, while it was expensive to operate, old, and could use some upgrades, he shared the real reason for including a new senior center.
“If the residential development came right up against the commercial space downtown, it would have more of an impact on the downtown in terms of people using the services downtown,” he said.
Rocha asked if the developer of the site would knock down the old senior center and build a new one.
“That is an unanswered question,” responded Duran, “If it’s not financially feasible, then no. We think it’s feasible, but we can’t know until we test the water.”
Council Member Tony Tiscareno added his views.
“I want us to work with the community,” he said. “But my biggest fear is we’re going to meet, and…there’s going to be no compromise.”
Duran responded that the council should seek more input rather than having just one group voicing their opinion.
“You should have a wide outreach to the entire community, because everybody in town is a stakeholder to the revitalization of this downtown,” he said.
“We want to make sure that all parties, and I’m not talking about the Rivertown community as a whole, but the entire community, has some input in what they want to see in their downtown community,” Tiscareno replied.
Harper moved the matter to conclusion, offering his thoughts.
“We’re got to do something about the downtown area,” he stated. “A lot of community members want to know what we’re going to do about the downtown area…I don’t want another plan to be put on the shelf that doesn’t get done. I think the community that’s here is not the entire community. We need to listen to the entire community, but we do need to maintain the character of this community. Does a park do it? Maybe, maybe not. We can definitely look into it. Nothing is set in stone today. But I think we should keep the dialogue open as we move forward. I want to be a doing council.”
“I don’t think that there’s any rush, but we do have to get things done,” he concluded.
Wilson then made a motion to approve Duran’s proposal, and with Rocha and Tiscareno assured that there would be community input, the council voted 4-0 in favor of moving forward in initiating the solicitation process.
With the cancellation of the July 8 council meeting, the next meeting is scheduled for July 22 at 7:00 p.m.