The Nut Tree, a California highway landmark that closed eight years ago, may return to life in 2005. The Vacaville City Council in September approved a master plan for the 79-acre property along Interstate 80. The council’s unanimous decision came a year and a half after the city, which had acquired the property, approved a disposition and development agreement with Bay Area developer Roger Snell.

For decades, the Nut Tree was a stopping point halfway between San Francisco and Sacramento, as well as a destination of its own. A restaurant, produce market and train ride were among the attractions. After some hard times and the rise of a gigantic outlet mall nearby, however, the Nut Tree closed. Several developers took a shot at the site before Snell emerged as the leading candidate to revitalize the landmark.

The master plan calls for a mixed-use development that is modern, yet reminiscent of the Nut Tree’s public spaces. The pedestrian-oriented plan calls for 350,000 square feet of restaurant and specialty retail space, 200,000 square feet of offices, a 20,000-square-foot conference center and full-service hotel, a smaller business-class hotel, and up to 350 attached residential units. The development would also feature a 1.5-acre public square, and a 3-acre park with amusement rides and the restored home of the original Nut Tree proprietors, the Harbison family.

The disposition and development agreement requires Snell to produce at least 20 acres of retail and public attractions in the first phase. Development could begin in the spring of 2005, although the city has not yet approved a site plan or other project details.

During a hearing on plan approval, Snell told the City Council that the project would be a 24-hour entertainment hub that makes Vacaville a destination again. “There is no project like this anywhere in the country,” he said.

Council members were eager to approve the project but emphasized that they want something unique, “not,” as Councilwoman Rischa Slade said, “like every other place.”

IN A BATTLE OF SHOPPING CENTER TITANS, Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso defeated Chicago-based General Growth during a September referendum in the City of Glendale. The city’s voters narrowly approved a zoning amendment (Measure A, 51.6%), a specific plan (Measure B, 51.1%) and a development agreement (Measure C, 50.7%) that the City Council had adopted earlier this year for the Caruso project.

Caruso has proposed a “town center” project called Americana at Brand for 15.5 acres of dilapidated buildings and parking lots in downtown Glendale. The development would contain 400,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, a 16-screen movie theater, and about 330 condominiums and apartments. Americana at Brand would be similar to The Grove, Caruso’s successful open-air mall in Los Angeles’s Fairfax district.

General Growth, which owns the 1.5-million-square-foot Glendale Galleria adjacent to the project site, complains that the development would cut off access to the Galleria and clog local streets. The new shopping center would close Harvard and Orange streets to automobiles and generate about 20,000 vehicle trips per day.

The second largest enclosed shopping mall owner in the country, General Growth forced the referendum and reportedly spent $1.5 million on the campaign. Caruso responded by pouring more than $2 million into the election.

The two sides are also in court. General Growth has contested the project’s environmental impact report. In a separate lawsuit, Caruso has charged General Growth with anti-competitive conduct.

VENTURA COUNTY SUPERVISORS have approved a measure that limits campaign contributions to $250 for anyone with a land use matter pending before the Board of Supervisors.

The county already had limited contributions to $600 per election cycle. But Supervisor Steve Bennett — who helped pass urban growth boundaries in most Ventura County cities before he become a supervisor — said there is a perception that land use decisions stimulate campaign contributions that could influence supervisors.

Supervisor Judy Mikels voted against the restriction, saying it is unnecessary and discriminates against landowners.

THE RACE TO LURE A DHL CARGO HUB neared the finish line during September. In Moreno Valley, the March Joint Powers Commission approved a 380,000-square-foot facility, an action that permits a joint powers authority to issue $35 million in industrial bonds for the project.

Two weeks earlier, the San Bernardino Planning Commission approved Hillwood Investment’s plan for a similar sized cargo facility at the former Norton Air Force Base. The City Council is expected to provide final approval this month. DHL has already opened a small sorting facility at the closed base, which is now called San Bernardino International Airport.

Meanwhile, officials in Ontario are reportedly talking to DHL about a cargo base at Ontario International Airport.

The plan for March Air Reserve Base has spurred the most public interest. Nearly 1,000 people — many of them area residents who oppose nighttime flights at March — attended a September 22 hearing of the Joint Powers Commission. Middle-of-the-night flights are a staple of the cargo business.

Although DHL has remained in the background, most people involved expect the company to make a decision within a few months. The DHL cargo hub would employ 400 to 500 people.