Lynn Graebner: Business Journal Staff Writer
Three years after Catellus Development Corp. gained the city of Fremont's approval for Pacific Commons, the company received a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with the 8.3 million-square-foot technology business park.
The project would be built south of Interstate 880 along the east side of Auto Mall Parkway. It would include office, research and development, industrial and retail space, as well as parks and recreational areas.
The permit, awarded Sept. 7, came at a heavy cost. Three hundred of the 600 buildable acres Catellus had hoped to develop will be devoted instead to open space to protect fragile plant and animal species. The company will spend $10 million to restore habitat and an additional amount to maintain it.
"I think that's the largest hunk of privately owned land in the Bay Area picked up as conservation land for species," said Len Banda, a senior planner for the city of Fremont.
The flip side is that San Francisco-based Catellus will be building on one of the largest pieces of wetland habitat--47 acres--that regulators have permitted to be developed in the Bay Area, said Nancy Woo, chief of the wetlands and sediment management office for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency office in San Francisco.
Ms. Woo described the final plan for species protection at Pacific Commons as bittersweet. "While I realize they have put a lot of mitigation on the table, they could have achieved the same outcome by reducing the footprint of the project," she said.
Species on the land include the vernal pool tadpole shrimp and the Contra Costa goldfields plant (both federally listed as endangered species) as well as the burrowing owl and California tiger salamander, (both are listed by the state as "species of concern").
Catellus hopes it does not have to sacrifice any of its business park space, despite having its developable acreage chopped in half. Instead of one-story office buildings, the firm plans to go vertical with two- to eight-story buildings.
Catellus doesn't have the full green light yet. It has to go back before the Fremont City Council to amend its development agreement with the city.
Catellus first got approval for the development in September 1996. But at that time, no one knew to what extent the wetlands would affect its development.
The snag came when Catellus applied for approvals from the Army Corps of Engineers.
Now that Catellus has resolved the wetlands and species issues, it hopes to get the development agreement with the city amended by the beginning of the year so it can start road construction and the first phase of building by next spring, said Don Little, Catellus' senior vice president of commercial development for the Northwest region.
On Oct. 5 Catellus will present the changes to the City Council and the Economic Development Advisory Commission.
One of the remaining issues could be traffic. The City Council approved the original development agreement in 1996, recognizing that there are traffic issues that cannot be mitigated, said planner Mr. Banda.
"What the public will think of that remains to be seen," he said.
Since development would now be concentrated to the north along Auto Mall Parkway, there may be less impact on the southern portion of the property, he said. Some traffic analysis remains to be done.
Fremont hopes to get quite a bit out of the deal. In 1996 it participated in "interest-based bargaining" with Catellus, which resulted in the developer making some commitments to the city, including:
An option for the city to buy land for a public park and athletic fields.
An option to buy land for an advanced business and community center.
An agreement by Catellus to extend Cushing Parkway to Auto Mall Parkway.
With the revisions in the plan, the city could buy up to 30 acres of the open space for a large park and playing fields and a few acres in the business park for a smaller city park.
Catellus has not marketed the project yet, but plans to construct some of the roads and install utilities in preparation for tenants such as rapidly growing tech companies that need space quickly.
Rob Shannon, senior vice president and corporate director for Colliers International in San Jose, and his associates Dave Sandlin and Ed Mendence will market the properties.
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