By Jeannie Howard
In a region where land is at a premium, few plots in the Bay Area go unused. Whether for commercial or residential development or left in a natural state for outdoor recreational use, something is done with a property. This has not been the case for Point Molate in Richmond. Since the military sold the land to the city after the Navy closed the fuel depot, the more than 400-acre parcel has sat in limbo for nearly 25 years just waiting for a new purpose.
From being the home of Wine Haven, a destination winery prior to prohibition, to having processing facilities for industries such of fishing, whaling, and petroleum, Point Molate was a hub of activity in the early 20th century. Today, the Point Molate Beach Park is the only portion of the property that is used, which is a small portion of the nearly 290 terrestrial, or land, acres of the property. According to Lina Velasco, Planning and Building Services Director for the City of Richmond, the city’s goal is to bring back vibrancy to the beautiful location. “A majority of the property is closed and no one is really benefiting from it,” Velasco shared.
“The city has been envisioning the redevelopment of this site since 1995 when the Navy closed the fuel depot,” said Velasco. “We want a development project that is compatible with the setting, respects its location, and minimizes the potential for adverse impact on the biological resources that are on the site.”
Serving as a framework for all development plans, the Point Molate Reuse Plan, developed by a 45-member community board known as the Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee, outlines relatively broad plans for the site, which include housing, recreation, and the rehabilitation and repurposing of the historic Wine Haven buildings. Since the city council adopted the Reuse Plan in 1997, coming to an agreement on a concrete development plan for the land has not been easy.
For those familiar with this land know the endless controversy that has surrounded the redevelopment of the land for years. “Controversy remains on this site cause there’s a desire by some members of the public to maintain the entire site as open space,” Velasco said, sharing her belief. The discourse on how to use the land coupled with several years of economic down turn have delayed development beyond original expectations.
With all of the bumps in the road along the way, the city appears to be making headway on creating what Point Molate will become. Valesco shared that the city will consider land development entitlements by April of 2020—these will determine what type of buildings will be constructed and how many.
While there may seem to be a large focus on the builds to be built, only thirty percent of the terrestrial acreage will be developed leaving the remaining seventy percent for open space, according to Velasco. “We would like to open up the hillside for potential hiking trails,” she said, naming just one option for improvement of the open space to allow for beneficial community use.
Currently, the city is awaiting the results of various reviews and analysis, to include an environmental review to assist in minimizing resource impact, a school analyst to determine the viability of building schools, and a traffic impact study to help create a plan to manage the traffic impacts that will come from development. Once these impact analyses come back, the city will be able to solidify entitlements.
In general though, the broad plan for Point Molate will involve the creation of anywhere between 1,500 to 2,200 residential units, to include affordable and market-rate homes. “There is flexibility within our analysis that would allow for ‘flex space’—units that could be used for either residential or commercial depending on where the market demand is,” she explained. There will also be onsite fire and police stations, which, according to Velasco, will likely be joint stations.
Additionally, the plan includes the rehabilitation and preservation of the Wine Haven complex of buildings. Once the largest winery in California, this national recognized historical site will find new life through adaptive reuse as possible commercial or office space, according the Velasco.
Before any foundations can be laid, there is a tremendous amount of infrastructure work that needs to be completed. “When the military decided to close Point Molate they also eliminated the sewer treatment facility and, while there are water lines in the area, they are very old,” she described. “We expect that we are going to have to replace them and all of the electrical will be underground for the site. So, a lot of site preparation work will need to be done.”
As the pieces of the plan come together, Velasco stressed that the city hopes to continue to provide opportunities for community input. “The public has been visioning what could happen here since the Reuse Plan was adopted,” said Velasco. “There has certainly been a lot of public input and they’ll continue to be as we go through the final redesign and development plan.”
As the city of Richmond inches closer to realizing the full potential of Point Molate, it is clear that not everyone will be completely satisfied with the final plan but the city hopes to please as many elements of the community as possible. “Overall, the city is trying to create economic development opportunities, housing opportunities—both affordable and market-rate—and the creation of jobs during and post construction.