A 350-unit residential development proposed to be built on Redwood City mudflats, known as the Ferrari Pond, has been met with pushback from environmental groups who claim it would be detrimental to wetland habitats and existing structures vulnerable to sea level rise.
“The Clean Water Act is telling us this is a special place that needs to be protected,” Gail Raabe, co-chair of the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, said.
As proposed, the project at 199 Seaport Blvd. would bring 350 new residential units to Redwood City, an underground parking garage with 500 stalls, a public trail around the apartment complex and a 2-acre public waterfront park.
Approximately 8 acres of the marsh would need to be filled for the development of the building and park using 100,000 cubic yards of excavated material from 6 acres of an unfilled portion of the lagoon. During construction the site would be dewatered to allow for excavation and a 4.8-acre tidal wetland would be established and an additional 1.2 acres of avoided wetlands would be enhanced, resulting in about 12 acres of wetlands.
The 20-acre site was once home to a 17.4-acre salt pond that has recently reverted into a tidal lagoon after levees began to deteriorate in 2018. Since the breach, Raabe said tides bring in several feet of water twice a day.
“After three years, having the tide come in and out you have a real habitat value,” Raabe said. “Every acre really does count.”
Wallace Murfit, managing partner with the site developer Laguna Sequoia Land Company, wrote in an email that the project conforms to the city’s General Plan, a vision document for future city development approved in 2010 which included an environmental impact report.
At the time the General Plan was approved, it allowed for 8 acres of the site to be rezoned as mixed-use waterfront eligible for development while it also designated 12 acres as Bay open space, Murfit said.
Before formally submitting development plans to the Redwood City Planning Department for review, Murfit is seeking permit approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A permit to fill the wetlands is required under the federal Clean Water Act, a decades-old legislation intended to protect and prevent pollution in U.S. waters.
Concerned for the wildlife now nesting and foraging in the area, local environmental groups, including Green Foothills, Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter, and Redwood City Neighbors United have signed onto a letter imploring the Army Corp. to deny the permit.
Alice Kaufman, legislative advocacy director for Green Foothills, argued in a newsletter that the site is also vulnerable to sea level rise. Echoing Kaufman, Raabe said the site can be used as a long-term protective measure for existing buildings in the area.
The site is currently surrounded by development including the Redwood City Recycling Center, Graniterock Building Material and Recycling plants, a 50-acre office park, four residential projects and a Pacific Gas and Electric substation, Murfit noted in an email. The city is also considering turning roughly 10 acres of nearby land into a community park.
Additionally, Murfit said that zoning regulations took into consideration sea level rise projections.
Support for concept
Letters of support for future development of the area were also provided to the Army Corps of Engineers from the Bay Area Council and the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County, Murfit said.
“Just as there is opposition from environmental groups, there is support for the project from housing interest groups,” Murfit said.
In both letters of support, the organizations cited the city’s future housing obligations mandated by the state as a reason to allow development at the Ferrari Pond site. Though Regional Housing Needs Assessment numbers have not been formally adopted, it’s anticipated the city will need to build nearly 4,600 units between 2023 and 2031.
Rufus Jeffris, Bay Area Council’s senior vice president of communications, said in an email that the organization has yet to endorse a project at the site, noting a project was not submitted at the time the letter was. But the council did “generally [encourage] them to give consideration to the development of the property consistent with the city’s general plan and housing element.”
Evelyn Stivers, executive director of the Housing Leadership Council, said the organization shared its support for the residential proposal given that the project would be a benefit to the city’s housing shortage and complies with zoning regulations.
Like the Bay Area Council, Stivers said the organization has not officially endorsed the project which would require a group review. Though environmental concerns are taken into consideration during the endorsement process, she noted a previous environmental impact report found the land to be developable.
While the project does conform to the zoning requirements set out in the city’s General Plan and the included EIR, Raabe noted much has changed since that study was conducted and approved.
The effects of climate change have far exceeded previous projections, Raabe said, placing sea level rise and future flooding as a top concern for residents and local and state leaders.
“In 2010, I don’t think any of us fully realized what the impact would be from sea level rise,” she argued.
Dredging of the land could also result in habitat exposure to soil toxins such as mercury and pesticides known to exist in sediments found in Redwood Creek and Steinberger Slough, Raabe said. She suggested leaving the soils undisturbed will reduce the likelihood of contamination.
The fight to keep the mudflats from being developed is not about preventing additional housing development in the area, noting none of the organizations that signed onto the letter are against growth, Raabe said. Instead, she shared support for redeveloping sites and building near transit while preserving the Bay.
She and Kaufman also argue the developer could develop its project in another dry location, a “practical alternative” under the Clean Water Act that they say could pose a challenge for receiving the necessary permits.
“We understand the need for housing in Redwood City and are supportive of the housing going in downtown near transit but this is not the place to be putting housing,” Raabe said. “We don’t need to fill the Bay to build more housing.”
If the necessary permits are granted for the proposal from the Army Corps of Engineers and the California Regional Water Quality Board, Murfit will formally submit an application to the city.
At that point, Raabe said environmental organizations will lobby the City Council to not accept that proposal.
“We are very engaged in seeing that this site is protected within the regulatory framework that’s out there,” Raabe said. “We’re very devoted.”
Note to reader: This story has been clarified. None of the environmental organizations are anti-growth and the organizations are not considering a legal challenge of the proposal at this time.
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