The issue of affordable housing and the rezoning of 25 Danville properties brought a crowd of more than 160 residents to Tuesday's Town Council meeting.
On the agenda was a public hearing on an update to the Town's Housing Element; state law requires the town to update its General Plan, which includes a housing needs assessment and requisite changes to the Housing Element.
Chief Planner Kevin Gailey presented the update to the Town Council, explaining that Danville's plan will be affected by changes in state law necessitating a Town commitment to zoning ordinance changes pertaining to shelters, transitional housing and the identification of housing needs for extremely low income households.
He added that another measurable change comes from a review of potential shortfalls for the Town's Regional Housing Needs Allocation for Very Low Income and Low Income households. The Needs Allocation, provided by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), showed that for the 2007-14 period, the Town is expected to see an increase of 583 units. Those should include 196 Very Low Income units and 130 Low Income units, accounting for nearly half of the new construction in Danville.
These issues will require changes to the General Plan's land use designation categories along with corresponding changes to the land use map. Twenty-five "Opportunity Sites" were presented that could see changes to allow for greater housing density, which in turn would allow for either a greater number of single family detached homes or possible multi-family units.
Gailey said that making the changes to the Housing Element does not mean that those properties will be rezoned or that any new project would be approved automatically if it met the criteria set down in the plan.
After Gailey's presentation, council members asked several questions. Most notably: What would be the effect if the Town falls out of compliance?
Gailey said the ramifications could include potential loss or the Town's portions of the Measure J half-cent sales tax revenue; potential legal challenge on the adequacy of the Town's General Plan; and potential requirement to provide default approval of housing projects containing an affordability component.
"In other words, a limit or loss of discretionary review authority over such projects, for the period of time the Town is out of compliance," he explained.
Mayor Mike Doyle opened the public hearing on the matter, saying that he had received 25 speaker cards on the issue.
Many of those who spoke did not agree with the Town's assessment of their property or the need for it to be on the list. One of those was Gary Parsons, co-owner of the property where Sloat Garden Center is located. He questioned how the Town chose the Opportunity Sites.
"I have problems with the transparency and the methodology of the selection process," he stated. "There are three nurseries in town. Why was mine targeted?"
Parsons also called on Town officials to consider holding their meetings in other locations since the Meeting Hall on Front Street was too small for the standing-room-only crowd.
"The tag back there says the Fire Marshall puts this room at 126 capacity. We're well past that," he stated to wild applause.
Many of the residents complained about not receiving adequate notice of the meeting. Daniel Osterman took staff to task for not sending out notices to more than just those property owners directly impacted. Many said they just learned of the meeting from neighbors and homeowner groups.
"The worst part of this was the arrogance of the notification," Osterman complained. "If it weren't for a couple of kids bringing fliers around we wouldn't have known. When you guys do something like this, the entire neighborhood is affected, the entire neighborhood deserves to know."
Mike Price said that changing the density and allowing for multi-family homes would be a significant change to the character of Danville.
"I moved here 19 years ago. I am concerned about the character of the neighborhood," he said. "I really have a problem with redeveloping neighborhoods. I moved to that neighborhood for a reason and I don't want to see it change."
Concerns of crime stemming from low income housing were expressed by resident Terry Lee. "We live in a safe community, and we paid to live in that safe community, and we deserve to have that safe community," Lee stated.
In response to one resident's concern about Eminent Domain taking away people's homes, Town Attorney Rob Ewing explained that Prop 99 prohibits any such action by the Town.
The public hearing lasted for more than an hour and a half as more and more residents went before the council to request that their properties be removed from the Opportunity Site List.
After the public hearing was closed, council members discussed the Housing Element and the sites listed. Councilman Newell Arnerich pointed to several of the sites mentioned by residents during the public hearing and suggested they be cut from the list.
Councilwoman Candace Andersen said that while she agreed that some projects would fall off the list as the process went on, she wasn't sure that cutting them now would be productive as it might slow down the process.
Arnerich responded, "Either we're going to make some modifications which will slow it down or it will slow down on the other side. I would be comfortable to take tonight to move forward and take some off the list."
He then moved to approve the Housing Element, with the removal of seven parcels from the list of Opportunity Sites.
Andersen said she was also worried that sending too short a list to the state Department of Housing and Community Development would result in the HCD sending the Housing Element back.
"I don't want Danville's character to change," she said. "I don't think it's likely we would approve anything on those sites, but I also want to be able to approve our housing element."
Gailey said that it may be possible to add another site to the list, which would help to compensate for the removal of the seven parcels. He explained that he had been in contact with a man who owns a 5.5 acre parcel on El Capitan near the south end of town.
After further discussion, the Council voted unanimously to remove parcels on Oak Court, Ramon Court, Parrot Lane, La Gonda Way, El Dorado, Sonora Avenue and Diablo Road.
After the vote, council and staff both reminded residents that the approval of the Housing Element does not guarantee that the zoning will change or that any development would be approved. Gailey said it is only the beginning of the General Plan Update, and all of the remaining parcels will go through a thorough review process and if not found to be sufficient to the Regional Housing Needs Allocation requirements, would be taken off the list of Opportunity Sites.
Gailey added he expects discussions to begin between the Town Council and the Planning Commission sometime in early 2010.
For more information go to the Town of Danville Web site.