After weeks of lengthy meetings and public hearings, Danville's Planning Commission recommended that its draft 2030 General Plan update be forwarded to the Town Council for review and eventual adoption. Hundreds of concerned residents packed the Tuesday night meeting to express dissatisfaction with the update and request that the plan be tabled.
Although a few changes were made to the update to reflect resident concerns, several commissioners said there weren't enough new resident complaints to warrant holding another public hearing on Feb. 26. Only Commissioner Paul Radich was hesitant to forward the plan to council.
"We've made some important moves, listened to you and took action on things you wanted us to look at," said Commissioner Robert Combs, noting that the Planning Commission is not a decision-making body. "I would like to forward this on to a body that does make decisions."
Chief among resident concerns was state mandated low-income housing allocation, which requires that the town designate a minimum of 9.6 acres that may be used for affordable housing. Commissioners removed three "opportunity sites" -- 2.2 acres located on El Cerro Boulevard at Interstate 680, 1.72 acres near the Danville Bowl and 2.54 acres on West El Pintado, which would not count toward the housing allocation needs -- to be considered for higher density housing, from the final plan.
"It is also important to point out that these sites, this process have been identified to provide some options…that will allow (development) that to occur in a way that will honor the uniqueness of the community," said Town Manager Joe Calabrigo. "There are multiple references in every section of the document to maintaining the qualities that make Danville a unique and special town. The piece of this that I'm missing is why there is an assumption that that policy is somehow going to change at this point in time."
Still, dozens of speakers questioned the need for affordable housing at all and several suggested leaving the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), which mandates the allocation. Former Congressman Pete Stark interrupted Commission deliberations after the public hearing was closed to express his distaste for ABAG and its projected population growth numbers.
"We live in a very unique, very priceless place. ABAG money is too high a price for something called priceless," one resident said.
Commissioners also added a definition for affordable housing to the plan, which is less than 30 percent of the Contra Costa County median household income of $90,000 for a family of four. The Town Council adopted detailed information on affordable housing in 2009, Consulting City Planner Barry Miller said.
"There's a sense that housing built would be required to be occupied by people making those incomes. Our obligation is to end up with a certain specified units at minimum amount of acreage. There is no obligation on the town's side to have those backfilled with households of certain specified incomes," said Kevin Gailey, chief of planning. "It's very unlikely that this will result in housing unlike what is already built."
Commissioners and town officials came under fire after the closing the public hearing, however, for not fully articulating the height limit on all downtown buildings. Where planners said there would be a strict two-story limit, Calabrigo said limits are calculated in feet and the town's has a 37 foot limit could possibly accommodate three stories. All buildings will still be subject to design and architectural review processes, he added.
In response to residents' appeals, the town also amended how the General Plan would handle the development of open space and agricultural land. The Commission removed language about clustered development (P-1 zoning) on agricultural land, which allows for more houses to be built on a smaller acreage to preserve open space.
Still, there are other parts of the General Plan that direct the town to consider clustered zoning to maximize open space, Town Attorney Robert Ewing said. Developers could still request P-1 zoning, but would need permission first; the hotly contested SummerHill Homes project has already requested clustered development.
Commissioners strengthened language around Measure S, which requires a resident vote to approve changes to the General Plan for all properties designated agricultural, parks and recreation, and open space. Officials also chose to retain language from the 2010 General Plan when dealing with development on agricultural lands -- specifically, encouraging development at one home per 20 acres (A-4 zoning) and requiring a comprehensive planning study for any changes to agricultural designation.
At this public hearing, the Planning Commission will consider Draft Planning Commission Resolution No. 2013-01, which would forward a recommendation that the Town Council certify the Final EIR, including the October 2012 public review draft EIR and the February 2013 final EIR.
The recommendation forwards the 2030 Plan, including the draft environmental impact report and sustainability action plan, to the Town Council, which will hold its own public hearings in the coming months. The 2030 Plan is not yet on the Council agenda, but Town Manager Calabrigo said it could be discussed as early as March 5.