Firm Backs Off Bid to Move Concord Airport

A developer has grounded its controversial plan to move Buchanan Field.

Shapell Industries decided Tuesday to call off its ambitious bid to build 6,000 homes on the Concord airport site and move the runways to another central Contra Costa location.

The proposal had always been a long shot because it did not have the support of the FAA or the private pilots who have used the county-run airport since 1946.

Two replacement sites near Martinez were not feasible. And in the past few months, Shapell tried to line up support for a new airport between Highway 4 and the Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline. But its numerous hills would have made for difficult grading and pilots had concerns about that area's rural location and seasonal fog.

"Any time you give up on a project it's a disappointment," said Shapell President Chris Truebridge. "But I think there was a logical sequence we followed and it's still a valid project today."

The developer's plan called for a $2.6 billion mixed-use project on the current airport site that would have generated 8,000 new jobs and $3 million in annual sales and property tax revenue.

But for Shapell's plan to gain federal approval, it had to build a replacement airport in the central county that was equal to or better than the existing airport. But the sites Shapell found were either not for sale, undesirable to the pilots or faced political opposition, Truebridge said.

For example, the East Bay Regional Park District was less than enthusiastic about a new airport next to its parks at the Carquinez Strait shoreline.

"How you make a flat airfield out of one of the most hilly areas in Contra Costa's open space is a big question," said Bob Doyle, a park district assistant general manager. "Having Buchanan Field located within the heart of a park area is pretty contrary to what parks are about -- it's about quiet enjoyment and views."

Shapell was supposed to present its Buchanan Field plan to the county Board of Supervisors next month but ran out of time to come up with a concrete proposal.

Contra Costa Supervisor Mark DeSaulnier, who first proposed the idea of moving Buchanan Field in 2003, said it was worth looking into because it came at no cost to taxpayers.

Shapell, which led a development consortium called Buchanan Field Partners, has reimbursed the county for about $100,000 worth of staff time spent on the project.

"I think now the board needs to get back to being re-energized about the existing airport and making it as good as it can be," DeSaulnier said.

That is welcome news to the private pilots who use Buchanan, which is surrounded by Highways 4 and 242 and Interstate 680.

"I'm delighted," said Dianne Cole, executive director of Friends of Concord Airport Association.

"I think this is a wake-up call for our elected officials that they need to listen to constituents rather than special interests. We've wasted 21/2 years on this foolish exercise and that time and energy could have been spent on the current airport."

Last year, Shapell had suggested relocating the airport to the ACME landfill or Tesoro Golden Eagle refinery property, both near Martinez. But the ACME site had toxic-waste hurdles and Tesoro was not interested in selling its land.

Shapell also recently looked into relocating the airport to the inland area of the Concord Naval Weapons Station, expected to shut down later this year. But wetlands at that site prevented Shapell from seriously considering it for an airport, Truebridge said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press

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