Oakland took the next step in defining the future of its central waterfront Wednesday by awarding a $2.1 million contract to a local firm to create a formal blueprint for land use, development, design and recreation.

The city's economic development committee voted to give the Oakland firm, Community Design + Architecture, the contract to prepare a so-called specific plan and environmental impact report for the central estuary. The area encompasses 428 acres situated between 19th and 54th avenues below Interstate 880.

The stretch of land is home to heavy industry as well as newer residential and commercial developments. The decision to create a specific plan was an outgrowth of potential conflict between those uses as well as an overall desire to create a more vibrant and productive waterfront, and improve public access.

The Oakland City Council voted earlier this year to allow mixed-use developments, including residential on industrial land below Tidewater Avenue, on the same block as Hanson Aggregates, Gallagher & Burk and White Bros. Lumber. Although there is plenty of opposition to such a decision, Council President Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale), said new developments will help pay for waterfront trails, streets, sidewalks and other amenities in the area.

"This will benefit all those involved, including people concerned about industrial and people concerned about housing," De La Fuente said. "I've been around long enough to know that unless you have a plan nothing will happen."

It will take about 18 months to complete the draft specific plan and draft environmental report, during which time Community Design + Architecture expects to sponsor at least eight community workshops before the drafts are first published for public review in May 2010.

The report will examine market conditions and recommend different land-use options, whether it be industrial, light industrial, commercial, residential or parks. It will detail design alternatives and infrastructure needs, such as water, sewage, streets and lighting, and transportation circulation and access, and outline regulatory and financial requirements to update the city's general plan and implement the desired uses.

Redevelopment funds will be used to pay for the plan. The full City Council will vote on the contract Dec. 9.

Reach Cecily Burt at 510-208-6441 or cburt@bayareanewsgroup.com. Read her blog about West Oakland: www.ibabuzz.com/westside/