NEWARK -- A developer's plan to build 244 houses on contaminated land is up for City Council approval Thursday, even as environmentalists and regulatory agencies question its safety.
Though city staffers recommend Trumark Homes' proposal to build the single-family houses on nearly 25 acres, it comes with complications. The land's toxic soil must be removed and trucked away, and an industrial business might have to be relocated if the city seizes its property through eminent domain.
Despite those obstacles, city leaders say they hope the plan becomes part of their vision to build 2,100 houses in Newark's Dumbarton Transit-Oriented Development, a swath of 233 acres near industrial plants and housing tracts on the city's western edge.
The development would improve Newark -- fiscally and physically, said assistant city manager Terrence Grindall.
The project's fees -- paid by the developer for traffic issues, road construction and other needs -- would boost Newark's coffers, while its location near bay-side trails and parks would promote exercise, Grindall said.
"New housing is critical for the health of Newark, and we want to encourage more walking and healthier communities," he said. "This development fits into those goals, and we want to inject that energy into our economy and our community."
But environmental concerns loom. The land's soil and groundwater are contaminated with chlorinated solvents -- chemical compounds known to cause cancer, chronic skin problems and damage vital organs -- and several other toxic materials that could threaten "human health, water quality and the environment ... during project construction," the state Regional Water Quality Control Board said in a letter to the city.
A major soil cleanup would be required before anyone could live on the properties near the intersection of Enterprise Drive and Willow Street, the state agency wrote.
City leaders say they are not sure how long that would take or what it might cost.
"The developer thinks it can be done in a year, but the cleanup will take however long it takes to allow people to live there," Grindall said. Trumark "has to please the water board; it wouldn't surprise me if it took longer."
Newark also covets a 2-acre Gallade Chemical plant, a supplier of chemicals to high-tech companies. The city hopes to turn the property into a park with the Trumark development. If Gallade is not interested in selling, then seizing and buying the parcel through eminent domain is possible, Grindall said.
Gallade and Newark leaders have not talked about Trumark's plan in the past few years, but the council's approval Thursday would open the door for negotiations, city leaders say.
Tony Senior, Gallade's plant manager, declined to comment for this story.
The threat of eminent domain raises the ire of a longtime Newark resident, Margaret Lewis.
"This is an important business that pays its taxes," she said. "The city should not use eminent domain to remove a good business like that."
Lewis said she has environmental concerns over the contaminated land but also worries that truck trips required to remove the toxic soil will lower air quality for nearby residents. She said she believes the new neighborhood will never be pedestrian-friendly because it will be bisected by Willow Street, the road most used by trucks to pass through town.
But Grindall said changes planned for the busy street will calm its traffic. "The road will be narrower, medians will be added, and the speed limit will drop from 40 miles per hour to 25," he said. "Plus, we think it's a net positive that toxic material will be transported out of Newark, far away from people."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.
The Newark City Council meeting is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the council chamber at City Hall, 37101 Newark Blvd., Sixth floor.