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February 6, 2007 > Alone no more

Alone no more

The City of Hayward and Citation Homes are processing a different kind of crop from the old cannery processing plants beneath a landmark water tower.

By Steve Warga

Not far from the corner of Winton Avenue and Cannery Court in Hayward, a solitary, vintage water tower stands guard over a large tract of open ground. It's a distinctive structure, thanks to gleaming paint in Hayward's signature green over cream colors, including a bright rendition of the city's official logo. It no longer holds water, or anything else except a trove of memories of a bygone era. But soon, very soon, the Hayward water tower will stand alone no more. Citation Homes of Santa Clara has come to town and the old cannery area will never be the same.

Difficult though it may be to imagine, the busy streets and crowded neighborhoods of present-day Hayward were once a picture of agrarian bliss. It was a time of working with, rather than against, Mother Nature who is not one to be rushed. So farmers would plow their fields, fertilize the soil, plant their seeds, control the weeds and then ... they ... would wait ... while the grand lady took her own sweet time. Sunny, languid days followed the flurries of seasonal plantings; dads would catch up on maintenance and household chores; kids frolicked in the woods and hit the swimming holes all they could stand; moms had time to make those special treats everybody loved.

The lazy days never lasted though. Every hour of Bay Area sun brought tomatoes closer to red and ripe, berries grew rich with sweet, tangy pulp, and peach tree branches drooped slowly earthward, pregnant with yummy, fuzzy orbs of fruit. Harvest time ... and, man, did life get busy! Mother Nature's treats were rudely and rapidly plucked, pulled, dug or chopped from their various natural states, tossed into all manner of containers, then rushed to processing plants suddenly exploding with noise and activity. Hayward's "Cannery Area" crawled with workers, equipment and seemingly endless mountains of produce that could not wait! Preserve or rot; and no one did it any better than the cavernous plants clustered along the street called Cannery Court today.

Finally though, profits to be gleaned from beneath the soil could not compete with the profits being harvested above the ground. Bay Area housing boom riches proved irresistible to the owners of those vast tracts of land in "The Heart of the Bay," as Hayward likes to be known. They sold their land and the canneries closed, leaving that tall water tower, forlorn and unwanted after years of service, amidst abandoned buildings and concrete slabs.

Subtitle: Cannery Area today

Vice President of Land Acquisition and Development, Charles McKeag, describes some of the efforts to date that are turning all that abandoned brick, mortar, concrete and steel into a thriving residential community, complete with shops and parks that will say to the world, "The Heart of the Bay is a happening place to live, work and play!"

Standing next to several towering piles of demolition debris, McKeag explains the process that will see most of that debris going back into the new development. "What we do is crush this into two-inch pieces of aggregate that we'll use as base rock for the new roads we're planning. In the old days, we'd haul that stuff away. Now we're recycling it." Several big, front-end loaders rumble in the background, hauling buckets of the debris to a crushing machine with a conveyor belt that's rapidly building a new mountain of ready-to-use aggregate.

Some of the old land won't be reused because it is contaminated with toxic levels of arsenic and lead, residue of early versions of pesticides. "Contaminates are almost always a part of redevelopment projects," McKeag says. "When we come across it, like here, we have to isolate that soil and then haul it to approved dump sites."

Soil issues and all the attendant certifications from government agencies are only a small part of the big picture. Modern redevelopment projects face a myriad of challenges. This is why years will pass before the gleam in a city planner's eye finally becomes the first roar of industrial backhoes tearing into the ground.

First conceived in 1998 as part of Hayward's ambitious downtown redevelopment plans, Cannery Place took its first steps off the drafting boards about two years ago when Citation Homes acquired a 20-acre plot in the heart of the old cannery area. Since then, they've worked deals for adjacent tracts; assisted in relocating and rebuilding Burbank Elementary School; and cooperated with Eden Housing Inc. to build a new low-income, senior housing complex next to the BART station. That complex will also include new office suites for the nonprofit affordable housing developers.

The Eden Housing project came together in response to statutory requirements that a certain percentage of residential redevelopments must be set aside for lower income applicants. The deal with Eden Housing is a creative solution to this mandate and demonstrates Citation Homes' commitment both to Cannery Place and to the best interests of Hayward residents.

The central project going up around the landmark water tower will eventually include 628 housing units with a mix of condominiums and duet-style homes on the parcels currently being prepared. Another170 units will be added sometime after 2010 when Citation Homes can exercise an option to purchase one final parcel currently owned by a trucking company.

The entire package will feature a wide swath of greenbelt centered with a park area around the water tower. McKeag says there will also be about 10,000 square feet of space for neighborhood retail operations. Given continued good weather and a knock or two on wood, McKeag and company are expecting to begin model home construction in May. The project's first residents ought to be settling in the tower's shadows sometime early next year.

Hayward's redevelopment plans seek to "re-establish the downtown area as a viable commercial center, to expand its mix of uses and activities, and to improve its physical appearance." To this end, there's no finer example of their best efforts than the men and machines currently turning vacant land into pride-of-ownership housing in the "Heart of the Bay."

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