Thursday, June 10, 1999
Although it's years away from breaking ground, the proposed development of Armstrong Ranch has already made some Marina residents fighting mad. The current conceptual design proposes 2,500 homes for construction on a 900-acre parcel of the ranch lying directly north of Marina, and the city''s current "preferred alternative" for a new general plan allows for over 3,000 homes there.
On the one hand, the development of Armstrong Ranch may very well increase Marina''s tax base and provide citizens with sorely needed services. But opponents argue the development would drain the city''s resources, stress its infrastructure and endanger its water sources, while all Monterey Peninsula residents could be affected by increased traffic and urban sprawl.
To inform our readers of the possible impacts, the Weekly asked project proponents and opponents to step into the ring and punch out the pros and cons of Armstrong Ranch development.
In the blue corner, weighing in on the side of a bigger, more immediate project is Armstrong Ranch developer, the Gibson Speeno Company of San Jose. In the green corner, urging more open space and fewer houses, is Marina 2020 Vision, a group of concerned citizens, promoting "smart" growth.
Let the match begin.
How will the city of Marina be impacted if Armstrong Ranch is built as proposed?
Gibson Speeno: A sensitively planned and phased development of Armstrong Ranch means that Marina residents can take control of their own future, plan their community, and share in the economic prosperity of Monterey County. The Armstrong Ranch will provide improved housing and employment opportunities for Marina. The expanded tax base from the ranch may be helpful in funding needed schools, parks and recreation facilities, and enabling an improved level of library, public safety and other municipal services. Development on the Armstrong Ranch is anticipated to take place carefully over 12 or more years while leaving over half of the ranch in open space and agriculture uses, preserving the coastline, and making provisions for public trails, sports fields and other community facilities. Armstrong Ranch is intended to preserve the character of Marina while enhancing opportunities for Marina residents.
Marina 2020 Vision: If Armstrong Ranch is developed now, Fort Ord could languish as an abandoned city for decades. Marina''s highest priority related to land use should be the redevelopment of Fort Ord and conversion of the existing abandoned areas of the former Army base to productive civilian use. Authorizing the development of Armstrong Ranch would provide an all too easy alternative for developers who might otherwise invest in Fort Ord redevelopment. To develop Armstrong Ranch now would be an unnecessary waste of agricultural land and contribute to urban sprawl. As long as Fort Ord land is available, there is no need to develop Armstrong Ranch.
If built, how big should the project be? What should it include and not include?
GS: Armstrong Ranch is approximately 2,000 acres. Currently, only 900 acres is being planned for development, and that will be phased over the course of the next 12 to 15 years. The other 1,100 acres will continue to be devoted to agricultural and open space uses. The 900 acres planned for development will make provisions for public trails, sports fields, parks and open space, and other public amenities such as a professional public golf course and a place for Marina residents to gather and socialize, while providing for a variety of quality housing opportunities--move-up housing, senior housing and housing for Marina''s expanding employment base.
2020: Marina 2020 Vision is proposing that an urban growth boundary (UGB) be established at the existing city limit line. The UGB would limit development of Armstrong Ranch for the next 20 years to approximately 300 acres adjacent to the existing city. Within this 300-acre area, 100 to 300 homes could be constructed surrounded by significant open spaces including natural areas, a golf course or other recreation uses. This limited development should include significant buffer zones to protect existing homeowners from the impacts of new development and provide circulation alternatives that avoid channeling traffic into existing neighborhoods.
What opportunities could an Armstrong Ranch development bring to the city of Marina?
GS: This is an exciting opportunity for the residents of Marina to control their own future. The expanded tax base can help fund schools, parks, public safety, libraries, recreation facilities and other municipal services. It can provide housing and employment opportunities for the residents of Marina while developing less than half of the available land. Armstrong Ranch is planned to fit naturally within its surroundings. It is an opportunity to preserve the coastline and provide a balance of open spaces forever while providing numerous public amenities to the community.
2020: Development of the 300-acre portion of the ranch within the existing city limits would be an opportunity to truly link jobs to housing. A specific plan could be developed that required potential developers to provide housing for jobs created and jobs for housing built. The California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) staff-housing plan could be the model. At CSUMB, homes are being sold to faculty and staff while the underlying land remains CSUMB property. This allows the university to retain control so when the homes are sold they must become available for sale to their employees. The same arrangement between businesses established at the Marina Airport business park and the housing built on Armstrong Ranch could be established. This strategy would give real meaning to the jobs-housing balance goal.
What impacts will the project have on existing city services and infrastructure?
GS: Responsible planning and development of the Armstrong Ranch can have a positive impact on city services. Freeways, sewers and water allocations are already in place. The project will provide for all needed safety and city services. In fact, it is expected that the expanded tax base will help fund a higher level of municipal services for Marina residents.
2020: The most important component of Marina''s infrastructure is its water supply. Increasing water use on Armstrong Ranch will threaten the water supply for existing Marina residents. Marina water comes from the Salinas Valley ground water basin. Two of the three aquifers under the city are contaminated with sea water. The hydrology of the remaining aquifer is poorly understood, as there are no monitoring wells available to determine if saltwater is approaching our water supply wells. The Marina water supply is in such a precarious state that a small desalination plant has been constructed to, in part, provide an emergency water supply if our wells suddenly go bad. Failure of these wells would severely impact Marina residents and restrict redevelopment of Fort Ord. Marina cannot afford to risk its existing water supply by promoting the Armstrong Ranch development.
What are possible impacts on traffic both in the city and elsewhere in the county?
GS: One of the reasons that developing Armstrong Ranch makes sense is the existing freeway interchange. The impacts of traffic on Highway 1 are currently being studied, and a major part of planning will be looking at ways to minimize traffic demands on city streets. Ultimately, the best way to minimize traffic is to put housing near jobs, which is precisely the thinking behind Armstrong Ranch given its proximity to both the airport and Monterey Bay Education Science and Technology (MBEST) Center.
2020: The city''s current "preferred alternative" for a new general plan would allow in excess of 3,000 homes on Armstrong Ranch. This new housing would increase the population of Marina by about 10,000 people and 5,000 cars. Adding 5,000 cars will overtax our existing road systems, increasing traffic congestion. Highway 1 is already backed up during commute times, and Highway 156 is a mess on Sunday afternoons: 5,000 more cars can only make these situations worse. The proposed low-density housing will make public transit alternatives unfeasible. The situation will be even worse if many of the new homeowners commute to jobs in San Jose as we expect. Development could also change California, DeForest and Crescent avenues from quiet residential streets to busy thoroughfares.
Will the project solidify Marina''s role as a bedroom community?
GS: The plan for Armstrong Ranch is to build a variety of mid- to upper-level housing in phases to meet the housing needs of MBEST and local residents. Armstrong Ranch is being built to accommodate this local growth. Additionally, a significant and important component of the project will be designated for "age-qualified residency," which will be for permanent Marina residents, not Silicon Valley commuters. Marina will be able to realize and enjoy the benefits of expanded economic and employment opportunities only by providing the necessary housing. Insufficient housing in Marina would only serve to increase housing pressures in other areas including the prime farmland of Salinas Valley. Armstrong Ranch is critical to securing a jobs-housing balance in the city of Marina.
2020: The proposed Armstrong Ranch development will exacerbate the current jobs-housing imbalance in Marina and reinforce the city''s plight as a bedroom community. Marina currently has an excess of housing in relation to jobs. To accomplish the desired jobs-housing balance, the construction of new homes should be limited until more jobs are created to correct the present imbalance. To build housing now will increase the likelihood that the imbalance will become worse and the bedroom community character of Marina will be made worse. There is concern that many of the new houses will be sold to people who will make long commutes to jobs in the Silicon Valley, making regional traffic congestion much worse.
Should Marina develop its portion of Fort Ord first?
GS: Fort Ord is under the control of a variety of regional, state and federal agencies that aren''t likely to act swiftly. In addition, there are environmental issues, demolition requirements and a lack of private funding or sponsorship. Together, these factors make the feasibility of Fort Ord uncertain within the immediate future. Economic activity serves to stimulate other activity, so the planning and development of Armstrong Ranch can be expected to have a positive impact on the ultimate development potential of Fort Ord.
2020: Marina has a unique opportunity to have significant economic development without impacting agricultural and habitat lands. Hundreds of acres of Fort Ord are already impacted by development and sorely in need of redevelopment. There are many challenges associated with Fort Ord redevelopment, but those challenges are the responsibility of government to solve. To abandon Fort Ord to develop Armstrong Ranch because it is easier is irresponsible and disregards the fact that agricultural land and open spaces have many important benefits for society that should not be destroyed unnecessarily. As long as abandoned areas of Fort Ord remain available for redevelopment the citizens of Marina should preserve the Armstrong Ranch lands outside the existing Marina city boundary as open space. Our open space is a precious commodity. Once it''s lost its gone forever.
What will happen to Armstrong Ranch should the city not approve the development?
GS: It''s simple. Right now, how Armstrong Ranch is developed--how much is built and what kinds of public amenities it contains--is in the hands of the city of Marina. But because much of the ranch is currently in the county, Marina residents could lose the control over their future. The Armstrong Ranch presents Marina with an exceptional opportunity to control development, preserve the coastline, and secure improved public amenities while expanding housing and employment opportunities.
2020: Marina 2020 Vision is proposing the establishment of an Urban Growth Boundary by voter initiative that protects Armstrong Ranch from most development for the next 20 years. Monterey County has already established that Armstrong Ranch is in the city of Marina''s sphere of influence. A majority vote of the people of Marina would be a clear message to Monterey County that urban development of Armstrong Ranch is not what the voters of Marina want. In the unlikely event that the county chose to try to circumvent the will of the people by approving urban development of Armstrong Ranch, that decision could be overturned by a countywide voter referendum.
What other options exist for Armstrong Ranch?
GS: Although some have suggested that Armstrong Ranch be used as farmland, The U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service considers the soils to be marginal at best. When combined with the hilly topography, this makes the ranch unsuitable for furrow irrigation and significantly limits the crops that can be grown. The other options would be to simply to leave the ranch as it is, denying the residents of Marina the opportunity to enhance their community and share in the economic prosperity of the Monterey Peninsula; or potential development of the property in the county jurisdiction with less local control of its ultimate development.
2020: Landowners have the right to use their land for economically viable purposes. Armstrong Ranch has been used for agricultural purposes for over 100 years. It is presently used for a combination of cattle grazing, and artichoke and flower bulb production. Those uses could continue for the next 20 years. In addition, the 300-acre portion of the ranch within the existing city limits could be developed to provide additional economic returns for the owners. If the landowners chose to, they could pursue selling the development rights to the property to a conservation organization thereby receiving additional economic returns and also continue the present agricultural uses.