John McNellis, the developer behind the project, told the Weekly that D.R. Horton had agreed to build the first phase of homes on the 4.2-acre plaza, which is located in the 3400 block of Alma Street. The company had also built the houses at Arbor Real, the residential complex at the site of the former Rickey's Hyatt.
McNellis' agreement with the builder is the latest milestone for a high-profile project that was the subject of 15 public hearings spanning two years. The City Council approved the zone change to enable the plaza's redevelopment in January 2009.
While the anchor of the new plaza will be a grocery store, the project also includes 37 homes, 15 below-market-rate apartments, a small park and a community room. The city's approval allows the construction of half of the homes once the lease with the supermarket is signed. The other half can be constructed once the store is occupied.
The Tuesday agreement pertains exclusively to 19 homes, but the same builder could return later in the process to build the remainder of the homes, McNellis said.
"We both anticipate and hope that it will be D.R. Horton building the second half," he said.
McNellis said he expects construction of the homes to begin March 5 and to be completed in August. Meanwhile, construction is in progress on the retail portion of the plaza, which includes the grocery store and the public park. The plan is to finish construction on the retail and the homes at about the same time, McNellis said.
The new grocery store will be occupied by Miki's Farm Fresh Market and would be modeled after the popular Berkeley Bowl supermarket. Michael "Miki" Werness, who worked as manager of Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market (both in Berkeley), announced in July his plan to open the store at Alma Plaza.
Miki's Farm Fresh Market is scheduled to open this summer.