Discovery Builders approved for 1,500 homes in hills near Pittsburg

Project will rise on 341 acres overlooking the former Concord Naval Weapons Station

Discovery Builders' Albert Seeno III with the Faria/Southwest Hills project site
Discovery Builders' Albert Seeno III with the Faria/Southwest Hills project site (Discovery Builders)

Discovery Builders has won approval to build 1,500 homes near Pittsburg despite pushback from a judge, residents, environmentalists and the city’s own Planning Commission.

An affiliate of the Concord-based developer owned by the controversial Seeno family received a green light from the City Council to build the Faria/Southwest Hills project on the outskirts of southwest Pittsburg, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

The 341-acre project, two decades in the making, will include 1,500 homes in valleys just outside the city’s limits overlooking the former Concord Naval Weapons Station. 

On a 4-0 vote, with one member abstaining, the City Council overlooked court challenges, community opposition and rejection by its Planning Commission to approve the project’s master plan, an amended general plan and a development agreement with Faria Land Investors, an affiliate of Seeno/Discovery Builders.

“We’ve negotiated this over many years,” Louis Parsons of Discovery Builders told the council. “We think this is a wonderful opportunity to bring more homes to this area, and to facilitate future commercial development.”

In 2021, the City Council had approved an earlier version of the Pittsburgh project despite opposition from hundreds of residents.

The approval was then challenged in court by Save Mount Diablo, a community group that argued the development would mar the hills and habitat between Pittsburg and Concord.

A judge ruled the city’s environmental review had failed to properly analyze the project’s effects on air quality, traffic and water, plus potential impacts of 150 accessory dwelling units. 

Revised plans jettisoned the ADUs, replacing them with $34,700-per-unit in-lieu fees to build affordable housing. They also reduced the development to 341 acres to build homes in the valley of the 606-acre parcel. The remaining 265 acres will be open space.

The Faria/Southwest Hills development will include a youth recreation center and trails that connect to the East Bay Regional Park District’s future Thurgood Marshall Regional Park at the former Concord Naval Weapons Base.

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Other benefits include bringing union jobs to the area and spurring needed commercial development with upscale homes, according to City Manager Garret Evans. The project will generate nearly $120 million in one-time fees.

Plans to develop the hills date back to 2005 when voter-approved Measure P placed the Faria site within Pittsburg’s urban boundary. The city approved an agreement with Seeno that set guidelines for a greenbelt buffer along the inner edges of the boundary in 2006.

Discovery Builders filed an application in 2010, modified it in 2014 and again in 2017 before resurrecting it in 2020. Evans said community input has made it “a better project.”

Pittsburg Mayor Shanelle Scales-Preston, who voted for it, wanted a guarantee that the smallest lot size would be 6,000 square feet instead of the 4,000 feet etched in the plan. The developer agreed to the change, noting most of the lots would be larger.

Some were not convinced, including Concord Mayor Laura Hoffmeister, who said the city was not against the project but was concerned about its visual impacts, including rooftops and light poles that might be seen from Concord.

Juan Pablo Galvan Martinez, senior land use manager for Save Mount Diablo, also was concerned about the visual impacts, among other environmental issues. He showed a stack of 2,200 paper signatures from those opposed to the project.

Groups such as the Greenbelt Alliance, the Audubon Society, Sierra Club and the Contra Costa Local Agency Formation Commission expressed concerns about the development, he said.

“We can protect the ridge and you can have your project, but we need a bit more time (to iron out issues),” Martinez told the council prior to the vote. “I strongly encourage you – four days before Earth Day – to give us a little more time and we can work on a win-win situation.”

In January, Concord killed a $6 billion plan to build nearly 16,000 homes on the former Concord Naval Weapons Station because of a family dispute involving the Seeno family, whose Discovery Builders made up part of a consortium of developers on the mixed-use project.

— Dana Bartholomew