NEWARK -- A fight over the development of a swath of land in the southwestern part of town known as Areas 3 and 4 has been reignited as the city updates its plan for the future.
In one corner are city officials, who since 2006 have wanted to construct more than 1,000 homes and a golf course on more than 600 acres of land owned mostly by Newark Partners, a consortium of developers.
In the other corner are some residents and environmental groups who filed suit in 2010 to try to stop the development and have so far done so, although an expected court ruling could change that.
"It's not a smart place for the city to be building on or sprawling into," said Josh Sonnenfeld, of the environmental group, Save the Bay. "Most of the region has focused growth around existing transit and infrastructure, but there is no existing infrastructure out there."
City officials, such as Community Development Director Terrence Grindall, say the project will be a major plus for the environment because it will ensure that 360 acres there will be preserved and its wetlands restored.
"This project is an innovative approach to get half of that land and preserve it forever," he said. "The golf course alone could earn between $500,000 to $750,000 for Newark every year.
The lawsuit has meandered through the courts for the past three years, with all parties still waiting for a definitive ruling. A case management conference involving a judge and the attorneys for both sides is scheduled Nov. 12.
The city and the developer cannot put a shovel in the ground until a court ruling is issued, Newark officials said. But nothing can stop them from restating their goals in the city's general plan update, which officials hope council members will certify next month. On Tuesday, the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the updated plan.
For decades, Areas 3 and 4 have been a peaceful, nature-filled swath of land untouched by development. After presenting its vision for developing it in 2006, the city then completed a specific plan and environmental impact report three years later.
In 2010, an environmental group called Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge filed a lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court. The suit claimed the city's environmental reviews were inadequate because they failed to properly analyze a number of issues, including future sea-level rise and the project's potential cumulative effects on traffic, water and the area's natural resources.
Public meetings on the general plan, which lays out a city's land-use vision for the next 20 years, were delayed throughout October, in part, because more than 1,800 people -- many of them members of local environmental groups -- submitted comments regarding the document and its proposals for Areas 3 and 4.
"There were a whole suite of concerns we had (in 2009), and those same plans are in the general plan update," said Carin High, a member of Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge.
Some government agencies, such as the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board have echoed environmentalists' calls for preserving the parcels and restoring the wetlands, noting that they are in the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge expansion zone and next to Mowry Slough, a primary breeding ground for bay harbor seals.
"Area 4 represents a rare opportunity to restore this complex of habitats in continuum with the bay," the Water Quality Control Board officials said in a recent letter to the city.
City Manager John Becker said the planned development in Areas 3 and 4 presents a great opportunity for Newark. In addition to the proposed housing and golf course, Becker said it will provide amenities -- a school site, a new park and bay trails -- that will improve the city's quality of life.
"Our city needs new housing and recreational amenities," he said. "This will be good for the future of Newark."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.