Danville's Planning Commission forwarded a controversial housing development to the Town Council Tuesday night, following months of public hearings.
In a 5-1 vote, with Commissioner Paul Radich opposing, the Commission approved the Magee Ranch/SummerHill Homes project --a 410-acre development at the southeast corner of Diablo and McCauley roads. The development and its associated environmental impact report (EIR) will now be heard by the Town Council, which will conduct its own set of public hearings.
Sixty-nine single-family were slated for approximately 38 acres of the flatter portions of the site, avoiding the steeper slopes and ridges and leaving 372 acres as permanent open space. New conditions of approval remove three lots on the eastern portion of the site at McCauley Road, adding an additional plot of land that will be dedicated open space.
Other conditions include the addition of a gravel parking lot/staging area for trail access as well as prohibiting construction deliveries and trucks on Diablo Road during peak a.m. and p.m. school travel times. A future Geologic Hazard Abatement District will also be required to present annual reports to the town for five years with semi-annual reports for the following two years.
"I think this is a strong project and I appreciate the public trail system and open space," said Commissioner Kerri Heusler.
Town officials also addressed a number of resident concerns, including traffic, bike safety and Measure S. Community Development Director Tai Williams explained how planners determined that the development would not cause a substantial increase in traffic as well as what is considered a "perceptible change."
A number of residents complained that the use of a 2 percent projected traffic growth standard minimizes the project's contribution to the Diablo Road corridor; Williams said the statement is erroneous and the 2 percent is added to the projected project traffic. To determine Magee Ranch's impact, planners used an equation that expresses a volume-to-capacity ratio, with current roadway capacity reaching 3,000 cars during the a.m. peak commute.
Assuming the project would bring 89 cars to the area, Williams used the following equation to determine that growth at 1 percent and two percent would have a less than significant impact on traffic: volume/capacity = project traffic (89) + forecasted growth (1 percent or two percent)/roadway capacity (3,000).
"We will just have to agree to disagree that other communities use more conservative thresholds," Williams said.
Still, a number of residents remained concerned about traffic congestion and the potential of construction vehicles to impact an already crowded corridor.
"These people are not here because everything is ok, or insignificant or negligible. They're here because something is not right," said neighbor Rich Ois. "You people don't know what's going on here if you haven't gone out and watched these intersections."
To that end, Transportation Consultant Gary Black provided the Commission with a model of current traffic and a model where traffic is eased after restriping lanes at the Green Valley Road/Diablo Road intersection. The intersection has a single left turn lane, two through lanes and one right turn lane which back up approximately 1/3 mile and takes 5 to 8 minutes to pass through. The approved SummerHill plan would extend the second through lane to 270 feet, adding about 210 feet of storage capacity to the westbound movement and reducing drive time by 25 to 27 percent.
To further curb traffic, SummerHill Homes promised to "help develop culture of bus ridership" by purchasing Traffix bus passes for new residents at a cost of $30,000. Developers estimate that passes for 47 students at the $200 early bird price will total $9,700 a year.
Planners also responded to comments about bicycle safety, as Diablo Road is regularly traveled by a large number of bicyclists. Although previous requests to widen the road by eight feet were deemed too significant an impact -- Williams said road widening would require the construction of new retaining walls, culvert widening, creek realignment, the removal of mature trees, removal of 6,000 cubic yards of soil and 36 utility poles -- the project will now utilize an existing multi-use trail along the north side of Diablo Road from Green Valley Road to Clydesdale Drive as a bicycle path.
The 8-foot wide paved facility would accommodate both bicyclists and pedestrians and connect with an existing asphalt trail on northern side of Blackhawk Road that begins at Mt. Diablo Scenic and extends to Camino Tassajara. The proposed path would close a 1.3 mile trail connection developed in 1989.
By recommending that the Town Council look at the development, Danville's Planning Commission determined that the SummerHill development does not require a General Plan amendment and therefore isn't subject to a public vote under Measure S -- a 2000 measure that 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.
Commissioner Radich, who did not vote for approval, said that while the he felt the project was a good one, he believed it needed a land use designation change in order to go forward.
"SOS-Danville members are disappointed with the stance the other commissioners took in approving the project and denying the need for a change in land use designation that would have triggered Measure S," wrote SOS representative Maryann Cella. "Nonetheless, we are appreciative that they recommended the removal of the three McCauley Road homes from the project. Those homes would have exacerbated an already dangerous traffic situation there."
Many residents expressed their disappointment with the Commission's decision, including former Town Council candidate Bob Nealis, who asked the Commission "if not now, when (will we invoke Measure S)?"
"This situation is tailor-made for a Measure S vote…Failure to do so is government by demagoguery and ignorance," he said, to applause.
Still, conservation organization Save Mount Diablo is backing the development, calling the project good from an open space preservation perspective.
"I understand what the neighbors were concerned about, but the reality is that this is the more sensitive development probably proposed in Danville, ever," said Seth Adams, land programs director for Save Mt. Diablo. "We're not arguing that there aren't impacts for the process, but in terms of resource protection and open space preservation, this is a good project."
The Danville Town Council will hold its first public hearing on the project at its June 18 meeting.