Contra Costa County's department of planning and conservation held a scoping session on Monday afternoon to address concerns about the New Farm Project, a rural mixed-use development in Tassajara Valley. New Farm has been on the county's register since 2007 and has been hotly contested ever since.
"The purpose of the scoping session is to find a starting point from which to analyze what are the public and agency's concerns for this project," said John Oborne, senior planner with the county. "We haven't started anything yet in terms of analyzing environmental impacts."
Applicants FTC Land has proposed using 771 acres of land along Camino Tassajara east of Danville to develop 187 residential units and cultivate olive trees. The project would preserve open space and wetlands, providing community gardens and staging areas for trails, but also calls for the creation of a community center and cemetery/mortuary. Other plans include an agricultural learning annex to serve local students, a religious worship facility and a fire training facility.
No county officials expressed concern over the project at Monday's scoping session but two conservation groups, Save Mount Diablo and Greenbelt Alliance, said the New Farm Project would be inconsistent with the county's general plan.
"Their concern was…that this would conflict with the county general plan and its policies regarding developments outside the urban limit line. They were also concerned with the extension of urban services outside of the urban limit line," Oborne said.
While the board of supervisors is tasked with the extension of services to the Tassajara Valley, the General Plan 2020 discourages developments outside the urban limit line. In 2010, members of Greenbelt Alliance submitted New Farm plans to law firm Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger to determine the legality of the proposed development.
"It is our legal opinion that the proposed New Farm Project is inconsistent with numerous provisions of the General Plan, including provisions adopted by voter initiative," said a letter from the firm. "Because the project proposes development and extension of urban services beyond the County's urban limit line, its approval may constitute noncompliance with Measure J's growth management requirements…this project may jeopardize the County's receipt of sales tax revenue pursuant to Measure J."
The firm continued that, if the project were approved, a petitioner could present a strong argument that New Farm violates state and local law. Matt Vander Sluis, senior field representative for Greenbelt Alliance, said his organization intends to work closely with lawyers and the county to make sure the project does not get approved.
"(The New Farm Project) will have devastating effects on traffic pollution and drinking water supplies. It would open the floodgates for massive developments on lands that voters have repeatedly decided are off limits for development," he said.
In their initial analysis of the site, Greenbelt Alliance determined that New Farm would add 1,700 daily trips to Camino Tassajara and pave over important agricultural lands. This, Vander Sluis said, would decrease the quality of life for everyone in the Tassajara Valley and beyond.
Oborne did not comment on whether development in Tassajara Valley held particular interest to the county, but said that the planning department must process the New Farm application like any other.
"We're going to focus on quite a few things, such as general plan consistency, provision of water and sewer, potential for growth inducing impacts, compatibility between urban and agricultural uses. This and other things would be sought out and investigated in the environmental impact report," he said.
No date has been set for the beginning of the environmental impact report (EIR) process, though the county has already contracted with San Francisco based Circle Point to develop the report.
The Contra Costa County planning commission will hold at least two public hearings on the EIR once it is completed. For more information on the New Farm Project, visit the county website.