Richmond rejects plan by Laconia to build 154 waterfront homes

Seven-year effort suffered from what city official calls “project-itis” — a plan too big and complex

Richmond mayor Tom Butt & 1500 Dornan Drive, Richmond (Getty, Google Maps, City of Richmond)
Richmond mayor Tom Butt & 1500 Dornan Drive, Richmond (Getty, Google Maps, City of Richmond)

A proposal by Laconia Development to turn a ramshackle wharf and a polluted warehouse into 154 homes on the Richmond waterfront has sunk.

The East Bay city has sent the firm’s Terminal One project on 13.8 acres at 1500 Dornan Drive back to the drawing board, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

Thus ends a seven-year effort by the Walnut Creek-based developer that involved dozens of meetings, fired architects and an exhausted planning staff in Richmond.

Laconia Development's Paul Menzies (Laconia Development)

Laconia Development’s Paul Menzies (Laconia Development)

Laconia’s latest plans called for 154 homes and 30 granny flats to replace the rundown wharf, lead-contaminated warehouse and chunks of concrete on the city’s western shore.

The company aimed to build 92 single-family homes, 62 duplexes and 30 accessory dwelling units near Brickyard Cove and the Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline. The original project approved in 2014 called for 316 homes split between 295 condos and 21 townhouses.

The Richmond City Council voted this month to kick the latest project – recently redubbed Latitude – back to the city’s Design Review Board sometime next year, sending the entire project back to go.

The vote came after the council hurriedly approved the newest development timelines, rules and costs for the controversial project in late November. The move was made to meet a deadline by state housing officials to close the land’s sale by the end of the year and keep the project alive.

Proponents of Terminal One say it would provide much-needed economic development in Richmond.

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Once a multi-family housing plan was scrapped in April, however, numerous opponents rose up to blast the plan’s lack of affordable housing and the city’s 11th-hour approval process.

A major complaint was the potential toll on roads, parks and neighbors from an estimated 25,000 truck trips needed to haul 130,000 yards of dirt to an upscale side of town during construction.

Jonathan Livingston, chair of the Design Review Board, said Terminal One suffers from “project-itis” – a plan so complicated and big it can kill an entire idea. Since 2014, he said the city’s planning team has tried to help Laconia CEO Paul Menzies make the project work.

The developer blamed the skyrocketing costs of labor and construction materials, paired with a downtrodden real estate market for creating insurmountable roadblocks to both the original and the latest plans, Livingston said.

“I’ve been trying to be very creative with the developer to find some other way to appease the mayor, appease the new urbanists that want higher density and get him a project that he can make pencil,” Livingston told the newspaper. “I think we exhausted just about every possible scenario that he (Menzies) might be willing to entertain.”

If the deal falls apart, the city-owned property will return to Richmond and be subject to the Surplus Land Act. That would mean the entire approval process would have to restart for the site before first being offered to other government agencies and nonprofits to build affordable housing.

Richmond also rejected another recent project on prime waterfront land. In May, the city killed a deal to sell 270 acres on Point Molate to a Southern California developer for $45 million, claiming the company didn’t meet conditions of the agreement. SunCal, which sued the city, had approvals for a 1,450-unit residential project with 400,000 square feet of commercial space.

— Dana Bartholomew

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