Danville's Planning Commission got an earful Tuesday night when approximately 100 residents attended a public hearing on the proposed Magee Ranch/SummerHill Homes project. The hearing was meant to gather input on the project's draft environmental impact report (EIR), which was available for a 6-day public review through Jan. 29.
The proposal by SummerHill Homes would rezone and subdivide a 410-acre site at the southeast corner of Diablo and McCauley roads. Seventy single-family lots would be located on approximately 108 acres of the flatter portions of the site, avoiding the steeper slopes and ridges and leaving approximately 300 acres as permanent open space.
The EIR was prepared to identify potential environmental impacts associated with the development application and analyzed several variables including aesthetics, hydrology, traffic, land use compatibility and public services. The document also discusses mitigation measures, several of which audience members took issue with. Chief among which were the impact to various animal species in the area, traffic and hydrology.
While the EIR states that animals such as the western pond turtle, nesting raptors and migratory birds, burrowing owls, American badgers would be "less than significantly" impacted by the development, environmental consultant and Danville resident Miles Young said he was concerned about the California Red Legged Frog -- a threatened species protected by state law.
"Overall, you've done darn good job compared to other cities, but this one has me concerned," Young, a former state Fish and Wildlife warden, told the Commission. "The Red Legged Frog is an endangered species and the presence of such a highly regarded species increases Danville's reputation as environmentally friendly."
Young charged that surveyors only monitored the frog population for six moths and didn't include the species' breeding period. After doing his own survey and finding adult and juvenile frogs along with egg masses, Young said the Commission needs to monitor who is conducting the EIR.
The project would entail the construction of a new driveway from Diablo Road/Blackhawk Road adjacent to Jillian Way, which would serve as the primary entrance to the subdivision; access to the proposed custom homesites would be provided by separate project driveways located near Diablo Road /Clydesdale Drive and south of the intersection of Diablo Road/McCaully Road. Several residents expressed concern about traffic patterns on the rural road, which serves seven schools (though only four are identified in the EIR) and is subject to cut-through traffic by commuters headed to Interstate 680.
"The traffic portion of the DEIR is grossly inadequate as it completely fails to note existence of Athenian," said Magee Ranch resident Tom Sutak. "This presents us with a wonderful opportunity to address traffic…and the Diablo Road/McCauley/Green Valley intersection."
Save Our Creek attorney Stewart Flashman concluded that the EIR's traffic study, which was completed two years ago, is "incomplete and inadequate" with invalid assumptions about the percent increase in traffic per year. The document needs to estimate the traffic impact for both local developments and those in surrounding communities.
"To ignore the cumulative impact of growth that goes on outside Danville is ludicrous," Flashman said. "The EIR has a very narrow scope…. only looks at narrow range of future projects, totally inconsistent with what (California Environmental Quality Act) is all about."
Flashman continued that, as written, the SummerHill Homes proposal would set up a similar safety situation to what happened in the Oakland Hills fire of 1991 by allowing for too many residences off a narrow road.
"One of our major disasters was because you had people trying to evacuate on small roads that were overcrowded and people burned to death," he said.
Other residents said the two-lane Diablo Road would be additionally congested by new residents driving their students to school and be additionally dangerous for bicyclists, many of whom use the street on their way to Mt. Diablo. Other residents suggested that SummerHill homes pay for additional school busses to the area to decrease traffic -- a notion seconded by several commissioners.
Several members of local activist groups spoke about Measure S, which limits development on agricultural land and requires voter approval by ballot measure in order to move the development forward. In order to accommodate the development, portions of the site would need to be rezoned from A-4 (one home per 20 acres) and A-2 (one house per five acres) to clustered residential development (or P-1) to keep homes off hills and ridgelines.
Although the development is located on land designated for agricultural uses in the 2010 General Plan, the draft EIR states that the project is consistent with that plan's policies and goals. Measure S is not triggered by zoning changes, town officials told the Express, but rather on request for changes to land use designation on a General Plan.
"Because the policies and goals in the Draft 2030 Plan are the same or similar to those in the 2010 General Plan as they relate to the proposed project site, the consistency analysis herein applies to both the 2010 General Plan and the Draft 2030 Plan," the EIR reads.
Former Town Council candidate Bob Nealis read from a statement by town officials about the preservation of open space being a priority in development.
"Our leaders have changed their minds, that is a shameful way to run a town and they should be embarrassed," Nealis said to rousing applause.
At the conclusion of the hearing, commissioners requested updates to the traffic study, emergency access, air quality mitigation, the slated removal of 18 trees, as well as more description on preservation of the wildlife corridor. After receiving this information, the commission will prepare a response to documents report using public testimony.
Following a Planning Commission public hearing, the response to comments document will be given to the Town Council for another public hearing and deliberation.