Thursday, February 12, 1998
Monterey City Hall was flooded with calls one rainy Wednesday last month complaining that the much endeared Stohan''s building was being torn apart inside without a permit. Tipped-off media flocked to the Cannery Row site where a city building inspector and observers made their way along slippery planks to survey the damage, while a handful of bewildered workmen stood by under a tree to watch the spectacle. That night, the local news flashed telling film of a bright orange Stop Work order taped to the building''s wooden door frame.
High-fives could almost be heard throughout the city as opponents of the Cannery Row Marketplace congratulated themselves for effective community diligence.
All along, property owners insisted that workers were only told to clean up after the previous owners only because the rain prevented them from working outside. But as far as concerned residents could see, it was one more questionable move in fueling an increasingly rancorous argument over the future of the last remaining parcel of open space along the historic Row.
Last week, the stakes got higher as the state Water Resources Control Board ordered three leaking fuel tanks on the property removed. Some opponents of the development went as far as to suggest that the developer may have "planted" hazardous materials at the site in order to circumvent the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process in order to break ground. Opposition groups have since appealed the state decision to have the fuel tanks removed.
This latest scene in the ongoing drama over development along Cannery Row is just one more indication of how bad the blood has gotten between activists concerned about the development and the Palo Alto-based Cannery Row Marketplace, LLC.
Since first brought to the public''s attention last spring, complaints against the $50 million Cannery Row Marketplace range from it being too large and too modern, of filling in valued open space to the waterfront, and of destroying the historic ambiance of old Cannery Row. And underlying the arguments against the development is a pervasive distrust of a developer who opponents and the city have charged with pushing the envelope on what''s allowed on this 400-block Cannery Row site. "It''s a very sensitive parcel," says Monterey City Manager Fred Meurer. "There''s always a conflict between the property owner''s general desire to maximize development and the general public''s desire to maximize open space and for the preservation of historic assets. So you have a natural conflict there."
Nonetheless, on a site zoned for commercial/residential development and earmarked as one of the city''s "priority sites" to be developed, the level of antagonism is surprising.
But given Cannery Row''s development history, and the city''s ongoing struggle between preserving open space and ensuring economic viability, the unprecedented anger toward the latest development project is perhaps understandable.
"I think this is an exception," says Monterey Planning Director Bill Wojkowski. "I think much of the concern here deals with the historic situation. We haven''t had [recent] projects affect the historic element of Cannery Row."
If approved, the 153,000 square-foot retail/residential development would encompass five parcels along both sides of the Recreation Trail and include a mixture of stores, restaurants and residential units, as well as three stories of parking. The project is currently waiting for an EIR which will determine, among other things, the historic importance of the Stohan''s building, size and scale of the proposed Marketplace, and issues of traffic and parking.
"We have yet to run into any tourists who want this kind of building, and tourists are the backbone of this community," says Barbara Bass Evans, founder of the Save Our Waterfront committee that formed last spring in response to the project. "The city of Monterey spoke loud and clear that it didn''t want concrete jungles and building on the Bay [with 1996''s Measure E]. Why can''t we follow the guidance that the city bated early on [and avoid projects] that distract from the beauty of the city?"
But the developers see opposition to their project a different way. "We''re the only game in town, and there seems to be a lot of people down there that have axes to grind and are making us the target," counters Dan Summers, managing partner with Cannery Row Marketplace, LLC. "There is absolutely no hidden agenda, any such distrust is completely unfounded."
This summer''s demolition of the San Xavier warehouse after the city determined it a public safety hazard infuriated many residents and spurred a desperate call to the city to make identifying historic properties a priority. Under such designation, buildings such as the warehouse, or possibly Stohan''s, could not be taken down, and would rather would have to be preserved at the property owners expense.
Next Tuesday, the Monterey City Council will hear a recommendation from a Historic Preservation Committee subcommittee to survey some 80 buildings.
But the warehouse debacle, and the later work going on at Stohan''s has only underscored suspicion of the developer who many feel is doing the bare minimum to satisfy city requirements, while disregarding community sentiment altogether.
"When the developer first came forward, the indications were that [they] understood the significance of history, and were willing to work within that. All of a sudden they come in with this overblown plan, basically coming in with a footstomp, ''This is what I''m going to do,''" says Neal Hotelling, former president of the Cannery Row Foundation. Each day just seems to bring another surprise, he adds. "I thought we were in a safe breathing zone, the professional studies would be in, and until the EIR was done, we wouldn''t have to worry. But there they are with sledgehammers [inside Stohan''s] and cutting down trees."
Summers balks at charges that his company''s project is insensitive to history. "The historic issue is really a red-herring issue," he says. Materials from the San Xavier warehouse have been saved to use in the current project, which is designed to replicate the Cannery Row architecture. Additionally, Summers says developers want to preserve Stohan''s as a period museum.
Although Summers says his company insists "no questions being asked are inappropriate," observers note that this project-more than any in recent memory-is being held accountable at every turn. Be it history or land use, or the foibles of a development many admit they don''t want to see built at all, there is little doubt Cannery Row Marketplace will be built without lots of community input.
"The folks that are concerned range from those who like to see very little development to other property owners who look at it and say, ''Hmm, what level of regulation is going to happen here,''" says Meurer. "There are also folks who are dedicated to preserve as much open space as they possibly can, and as much water frontage as they possibly can, and that''s good.
"But it is still a very, very long way from being an approved plan."