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Vallejo seeks more shovel-ready housing projects

Vallejo needs to build a few thousand housing units in the next several years to meet Bay Area goals for home creation.

But the question is when hundreds of dwellings in the project pipeline will get constructed.

In January, the Association of Bay Area Governments approved Solano County’s share of the 441,176 units the region was tasked by Sacramento in June to create to meet statewide goals for providing enough homes for the population. The latest regional housing needs allocation, or RHNA, for the Solano subregion was 10,992 units, down from 11,097 in December and 11,906 earlier in 2020, based on changes to population projections in the association’s 2050 Plan Bay Area regional plan.

Of that, Vallejo is being allocated 2,921 units to build for the next eight-year period, including 695 units for very-low-income households and 371 for low-income families. The city of Vallejo now is analyzing which parcels are zoned and have general-plan designations that would accommodate more housing, according to Gillian Hayes, Planning and Development Services Department director.

“We definitely don't have 2,900 units’ worth, but we're somewhere in the probably in the early 2,000s – 2,200, 2300ish,” she said.

Last year, the city issued building permits for 41 houses, and entitlements for 274 units were approved. And that pending count got a significant bump on March 1, when the city Planning Commission approved a 132-unit apartment complex on almost 5 acres of vacant land along Sonoma Boulevard and Magazine Street.

“People always ask about it,” said Nicole Solari, an agent with Level Up Realty in Solano County. “If there was new construction, it would be sold immediately. But unfortunately, there is too much red tape in Vallejo.”

A few major housing projects for Vallejo are on the cusp of construction or awaiting progress on environmental reports and permit applications.

Among the projects approved in 2020 was the Fairview at Northgate project, located on 51.3 vacant acres front on Interstate 80 and south of the Gateway Plaza shopping center. Approved by the City Council last June, the project by Sacramento-area Vallejo-Fairview Developers LLC includes a 153,000-square-foot Costco Wholesale store, tire center and gas station; 27,500 square feet of retail space in four buildings; and 178 small-lot, two-story single-family homes. The existing Costco store and fueling station in Gateway Plaza would be closed when the new site is completed.

However, that project currently is in litigation with Safeway, according to Hayes. The retailer has a store in the shopping center to the south of the project property. If that disagreement can be resolved in the next couple of months as expected, the developers hope to start construction this summer, she said.

On Golden Gate Terrace, New Faze Development has proposed the Borges Ranch subdivision with over 400 lots. It would have 319 single-family homes, 88 duplexes and a small retail site for a small market or cafe to serve the development.

An environmental impact report is being prepared for the project, but two challenges that have emerged are two endangered species and mitigation for vehicle miles traveled by the future residents, according to Hayes.

Under Senate Bill 743 guidelines effective July 1, 2020, project analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act must include a study of estimated vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, by users of the property and alternatives such as transit. VMT analysis replaces level-of-service studies of roadway congestion.

“Hopefully, we’ll have public hearings in late spring or early summer,” said Allen Warren, president and founder of 32-year-old New Faze. The company has built roughly 1,500 residential units in California and Nevada, and it is set to have three projects in construction this spring. “The entire state is severely underhoused, and Vallejo is no different.”

When the Sacramento-based company first started working with the project about three years ago, the goal was to deliver homes in the $700,000 range, but some of the pricier homes likely will be listed for over $1 million, depending on development fees and approval timetables, Warren said. The average size of the planned homes is about 2,000 square feet.

Where Vallejo wants to see action in housing creation and redevelopment is the waterfront project on the east side of the Napa River, Hayes said.

In December, the City Council terminated the fifth amendment to the disposition and development agreement with Callahan Property Company to rework the central waterfront area, after the company had secured the property over two decades ago but hadn’t met deadlines in the agreement.

The city earlier had terminated Callahan’s exclusive rights to develop land around a planned Vallejo Station parking garage, picking Holliday Development, whose leadership founded Factory_OS on Mare Island, to create a mixed-use project around the garage.

Callahan enacted a one-year extension for $100,000 on a 28 acres of the north waterfront, which the company calls Mariner’s Cove, Hayes said. Located near the Vallejo ferry terminal, the development is proposed to have 175 one- and two-story homes plus three small commercial buildings totaling 22,000 square feet, and two public parks.

A tentative map and plans for the housing and mixed-use project have been submitted, but the project application isn’t complete, Hayes said. She’s given the company a set of strict milestones to meet to keep the development agreement out of default, the first of which is completing the tentative map application by April 1.

“You've had it for 20 years, Joe, and it's time to step it up and get moving on this project,” Hayes said, referring to company owner Joe Callahan.

Callahan Property Company didn’t respond to an inquiry about the project.

But what the city has its eyes on to fill its housing goal is Mare Island. The city just received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to study the infrastructure on the former Navy shipyard. Hayes plans to include in the city’s 2022 housing element, a planning document that shows the state how Vallejo will meet its housing goals, a provision for housing in mixture of uses allowed out there.

“There is a lot of interest in Mare Island,” said Solari, the agent. “It is from the younger demographic, and they are interested in access to the ferry, marine living and being closer to the East Bay via (Interstate 80).”

At a virtual community meeting Wednesday night March 3 about progress toward redevelopment on Mare Island, Tom D’Alesandro, president of West Coast operations for Southern Land Co., master redeveloper for Nimitz Group’s island holdings, said the overall plan is still “in the early stages.”

“Our intention is to co-create with you a plan that looks at the island as a whole, not piecemeal, integrating all of these different aspects of the island together in a cohesive way,” said D’Alesandro said.

The next virtual community meeting is set for March 31 at 5:30 p.m.

The Solano County City-County Coordinating Council, which oversees the newly formed Solano subregion, was set to hold a public hearing on the metrics for the housing allocation on Thursday evening. The resulting subregional plan would be submitted this year to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, which is tasked under state law to approve the regional allocations.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before the Business Journal, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. He has a degree from Walla Walla University. Reach him at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.

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