Innovative Approach to Urban Planning

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Solving the City’s Financial and Growth Crisis

In the three years following the 1995 update of its General Plan, Hercules clearly struggled to find its way forward. Financial reserves were rapidly being drawn down. Vacant land was rezoned from industrial use to commercial/residential, but only the homebuilding developers showed active interest. In this way, Hercules was at the mercy of the Bay Area's notoriously weak regional planning. Despite its good commercial location, residential uses threatened to consume all the available land, worsening the financial crisis and closing down the remaining green open spaces beloved by residents.

Worse still, there was no assurance that the quality of new development plans would match the quality of the existing collection of parks, roads, and subdivisions, which were all delivered virtually together according to a strong 1972 urban plan. Indeed, when a large tract of former dynamite-factory land was permitted to develop, a poor outcome occurred: a disappointing residential subdivision was built, and the promised commercial big-box center was not.

By 1998, the Hercules City Council, with staff leadership, resolved to find a solution to the financial crisis. Meanwhile, the Planning Commission resolved to find a solution to the development and planning crisis that lay at the root of the long-term financial crisis.

The Planning Commission was deeply concerned about preserving the essential qualities that distinguished Hercules from its peers in west Contra Costa County. Something had to be done, fast, to bring commercial development—retail, office, hotel, entertainment, services—but it had to be the "right" kind. Planning Commissioners and residents knew that, usually, fast commercial development brought automobile traffic and stores of dubious quality or durability. Nearby, a long-struggling regional mall, and many tattered, dying strip malls stood as daily reminders of the perils of rapid-fire retail building and of the hollow promises of out-of-town developers.

The Planning Commission was determined to preserve a place worth caring about.

Attack of the Circulating Pods
Approach Zone Separation

Conventional Circulation Diagram
In 1995, Hercules seemed fated to grow according to the "default setting" for new development. Citizens were wary.


Obvious Opportunity
Approach Gelsar ROMA

Commercial and Residential in Lower Refugio Valley (1995)
Yet visionary work was underway by far-sighted land planners working for Gelsar and Hercules Properties.