Defining Infill
Jul 1, 2014

Defining Infill

The city of Redwood City, California is considering a large development project on a portion of the former Cargill Salt Ponds. Would this location be considered an infill site?
– Yvette B, Community Member
The first step in determining whether or not a project site qualifies as an infill site is to identify the past and present usage of the site and its surrounding area. In this case, the proposed 1,436 acre Saltworks redevelopment project is located in Redwood City, an urbanized center for high-tech industry on the San Francisco Peninsula with a population of 76,000. It is located just off Highway 101 near the Port of Redwood City, which houses several large office, commercial, and industrial businesses, and adjacent to the Pacific Shores corporate office complex. The site itself has been used off and on for salt production since 1901 and is the industrial portion of Cargill Salt’s West Bay operations. In 2006, salt operations began winding down.
Second, we should determine if those characteristics align with the definition of “infill site”. The Greenbelt Alliance provides a common definition of an infill development as “development of unused and underutilized land within urban areas.” Accordingly, the Saltworks site is an infill site because it is an underutilized property within the urbanized area of Redwood City.
California law qualifies a site as infill if the site is in an urbanized area and has been “previously developed for qualified urban uses” or is located adjacent to parcels that are developed with “qualified urban uses” or has a minimum of seventy five percent of the surrounding land developed with “qualified urban uses (California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)).” Under the same CEQA law, a “qualified urban use” is defined as “any residential, commercial, public institutional, transit or transportation passenger facility, or retail use, or any combination of those uses.” The law was recently amended to include industrial use. Because the Saltworks site was historically used for industrial salt production and harvesting, we can confirm that it has been developed for a “qualified urban use,” and therefore, would also qualify as an infill site according to California law.
By accessing existing urban resources and infrastructure, redevelopment of an infill site has the potential to create jobs and housing, reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality, and provide economic benefits to a community while reducing the pressure for sprawl development. However, despite it’s location on an infill site, the proposed Saltworks project is not without controversy. Like all large development projects there are a considerable number of questions that need to be asked and answered before determining if a site is appropriate for a particular development, and impacts to the local community and environment must be considered. In the case of Saltworks, the primary argument of its opposition is that the site should be fully restored to wetlands, rather than the 50/50 Balanced Plan (half transit-oriented development and half open space and wetlands) that the project proposes.
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