The Gilbert proposal is a part of the Dutch Slough Project, which has been fraught with conflict since 2001, when the 1,500 acres originally owned by the Emerson, Gilbert and Burroughs families was designated for development. A master plan was put together in 2005 by five developers and city officials to oversee the development of those three properties.
Last year, three of the developers backed out of the plan, leaving the Gilbert property as the only active project. Castle Companies and Ryder Homes, the proposed developers, modified their plan and submitted it to city officials, independent of the other Dutch Slough properties.
It was that reorganized project that the City Council approved Tuesday in a 3-2 vote. City staff stated that the original project could still go forward and the three properties (Gilbert, Emerson and Burroughs) be developed in separate yet compatible projects.
Councilman Brad Nix, who voted against the project along with Councilman Bruce Connelley, said that the Gilbert project would be a drain on the city and a losing proposition for future homeowners who will be on the receiving end of a substandard development.
"I was against the original plan because it should have included all 1,500 acres," said Nix in a phone interview following the meeting. "And I'm against this because it just doesn't work. When you drive down the Cypress Corridor, you have to find a finished, complete package.
"We negotiated a master plan, and through changes in the market and other developers, it kind of fell out. When the three were together I had faith; we had a master plan, but not this. To me this is just cherry picking."
Mayor Kevin Romick disagreed. He said development of separate yet compatible projects is done all the time.
"Take a look at the development across from Raley's where Kinko's is," said Romick. "The new Starbucks is coming in right there, and those are two separate developers, but you'd think they were the same. In a year, you will never know those were two different projects. There are always ways to make it happen."
For now, the developers of the Gilbert Ranch subdivision are looking to build fewer than 300 homes in the area known as Neighborhood 4, located in the southwestern corner of Sellers Avenue and Cypress Road.
The Gilbert Ranch subdivision is also slated to feature a four-acre neighborhood park in the center of the subdivision, along with nature trails. New levees will also be incorporated into the project.
Once the construction of the three projects is completed, a K-5 elementary school will need to be built to accommodate the influx of additional residents.
Rick Rogers, superintendent of the Oakley Union Elementary School District, said he would like to see a new school built on 10 useable acres north of East Cypress Road and south of the Contra Costa Canal near the proposed neighborhood park.
The problem, said Rogers, is that while everyone agrees a school will need to be built, no one wants it in their own back yard. Should the developers, city and school district officials fail to reach an agreement, the school district does hold the power to impose eminent domain on a parcel of its choosing.
"We very much want to work with everyone to come up with a suitable site and solution," said Rogers. "An eminent domain situation is a last, last resort; no one wants that. But the rub is that no one wants the school in their back yard, either. We feel confident that an arrangement will be reached that will accommodate everyone."
"This is all a good first step in developing the three projects," said Romick. "It's a starting point … I think it can work."