Fate of vacant Georgetown site hangs in balance as city, owner begin talks

FAIRFIELD — There is a battle of sorts brewing that pits a private developer and affordable housing advocates against the city of Fairfield, with Travis Air Force Base caught in the middle.

The focus is the fate of the George Town Village former base housing, vacant for a decade just outside the base’s North Gate and best known simply as Georgetown.

The owner of the site, Hunt Development Group, and a coalition of affordable housing advocates want to convert the nearly 300 units there into affordable housing, with some of the units set aside for veterans.

Hunt built the project for the Air Force, which used it to house base personnel under a 20-year lease that expired 10 years ago. The Air Force did not renew the lease but instead had more modern housing built for airmen stationed at the base. The base perimeter fence was moved shortly thereafter and the Hunt housing site was annexed into the city.

The site currently has no water or sewer service.

Hunt when it built out the project 30 years ago also built the water and sewer connections to the base’s existing lines and gave those connections to the Air Force. The base shut them down once the lease was not renewed and the project was shifted outside the base perimeter.

There are other hurdles to overcome even if the Air Force restores water and sewer service, which Hunt would pay for so there would be no cost to the base.

The city has raised concerns about the single access point to the project and the need to cross rail lines to gain access to the site, both of which present public safety concerns related to the ability of police officers and firefighters to respond to the site; the distance to the nearest schools and grocery stores; and the lack of public transportation to and from the site.

Representatives from the city and Hunt took part in a call last week to begin discussions about what would have to be done to make the project a reality.

The base, for its part, appears willing to restore water and sewer service to the site, but only if the city makes the request. That has not yet happened.

Travis Air Force Base spokeswoman Lt. Amanda Farr last week outlined the position of the base as it relates to the former military housing project.

“Travis Air Force Base respects the city of Fairfield’s autonomy on how it plans to permit and develop housing,” Farr said in a prepared statement. “Under the current conditions of the project, we are aware the city is opposed to the Georgetown housing project based, in part, on multiple public safety concerns. Travis Air Force Base shares these concerns with our city partners; however, the installation cannot dictate how state and local governments develop off-base properties.”

Farr listed four criteria that must be met for the base to provide water and sewer service to the project and remain in compliance with federal law. The utility service must not be available from local private or public providers, it must not disrupt present or planned utility services to the Air Force, it must not result in attracting development of commercial activities incompatible with the operation or performance of the installation’s mission, and the provision of utilities must serve the interest of national defense or the public interest.

“The primary arbiter of whether this private, off-base housing development serves the public interest is the city of Fairfield, and we remain ready to engage with the city should they seek our assistance in supporting this project,” Farr said in the statement. “At this point, the provision of utilities to the Hunt Corporation’s development is a matter between the city, the municipal water provider and the developer.”

Affordable housing advocates have been lobbying people in Sacramento to help get the project moving. The city, meanwhile, has asked the state to leave the matter to local officials.

Mayor Harry Price, in a letter dated Jan. 11 to Gov. Gavin Newsom, expressed concern that the state may trample on the city’s local control over land-use planning should the governor or the Legislature interfere in the city’s handling of the project.

“We share the state’s belief that California has a housing shortage, particularly for low-income households,” Price wrote. “As such, Fairfield has renewed focus over the past year on development of affordable housing. We currently have more than 500 units of low-income housing under development agreement. In December 2020, we broke ground on 190 units.

“Despite the housing crisis, we do not believe it necessitates development of housing in conflict with other state and local priorities, such as: ensuring access to high-quality housing, social equity for disadvantaged populations, and greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” Price wrote. “The Georgetown development, quite simply, is a matter of local land use regulation.”

Price in the letter accused Hunt Development Corp. of attempting, through media and statewide elected official advocacy, to influence a local land use regulation decision.

The city, “first and foremost, cares about the quality of life of our residents,” Price wrote. “The Georgetown project . . . does not provide for quality of life.”

Price’s letter follows a letter dated Sept. 25 from City Manager Stephan Chatwin to affordable housing advocates who wish to see the vacant homes used to support those in need of housing.

Chatwin outlined three broad areas of concern: the ability for the city to provide water to the project should Travis Air Force Base opt against restoring the water supply; access, with stated concerns over the distance of the project from elementary and middle schools and to grocery stores, and the lack of public transportation; and public safety as it relates to the ability of police to patrol the project and for city firefighters to respond in a timely manner.

“The city strongly supports groups attempting to develop affordable housing,” Chatwin wrote. “However, since the city is focused on developing affordable housing that are infill projects near essential services, the city is not positioned to support this project financially.”

City officials have also expressed concerns that the Georgetown project would not meet standards set in the Plan Bay Area 2040 document, which establishes housing goals for the entire nine-county Bay Area.

Plan Bay Area 2040, among other things, calls for “focused growth” in existing communities along existing transportation networks.

Chatwin’s letter was in response to a letter dated Aug. 19 from a coalition of affordable housing advocates expressed their belief that the Georgetown project could significantly reduce “an affordable housing shortfall of more than 1,300 homes” in a county where “renters need to earn more than $72,000 annually – three times the state minimum wage – to afford the county’s median rent.”

James Dobbie, executive vice president of Hunt Development Group, in a letter to the city manager dated Jan. 21, addressed the concerns raised in the mayor’s letter.

The letter counters many of the concerns raised by the mayor and provides a laundry list of work that would be done at the site prior to occupancy. That work includes tearing down some of the homes to make room for a second access point for the project.

Dobbie in the letter likened concerns about the site’s proximity to schools, grocery stores and public transportation to “letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Solano County staff plan to provide an overview of the project Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors and ask for direction from the board as it how staff should respond to the proposal to convert the site to affordable housing.