San Ramon Planning Commission weighs nearby development plan

Concerns center on housing numbers, traffic, parking

Just three people spoke Tuesday night at the first public hearing on revisions to a proposed new development in San Ramon's northwest side.

The Faria Preserve is a 740-unit community of five neighborhoods that includes single-family homes, town homes, apartments and senior housing, along with plans for a church, park and educational facility.

The hearing was the first in what Planning Commission Chair Eric Wallis said would be several on the plan.

For those who could not attend, he said, "rest assured, they will have an opportunity to come down at a later date."

The revised plan is smaller than the original 786 units proposed by Claremont Homes and approved by the Planning Commission and City Council in 2006. That plan was modified in 2008 to resolve lawsuits filed by the East Bay Regional Park District and the Sierra Club.

The land has since been acquired by Lafferty Communities; state and federal agencies balked at giving their approval because the original plan included moving two streams. That sent Lafferty back to the drawing board to create a revised project that again requires city approval.

"We are looking to do what we believe is more environmentally friendly. That is our current plan," Pat Toohey, Lafferty's vice president of operations said. Lafferty has also held formal and informal meetings with neighbors to discuss plans for the project.

At the Tuesday hearing, Planning Commission members and the speakers expressed similar worries surrounding traffic, parking and schools, and opponents questioned the need for affordable housing. The revised plan calls for 86 senior apartments and 216 apartment units that include 112 units for very low- and moderate-income tenants. Another would be for sale to low-income buyers.

"These are units that we will lose money on," Toohey told Planning Commission members.

In his last meeting as a member of the Planning Commission before joining City Council next month, Harry Sachs pushed for fewer units, in particular for the apartment buildings known as Neighborhood V. He suggested the number of apartments be lowered to a total of 200, including senior housing, noting that in Dougherty Valley, the number of actual occupants exceeded city estimates.

Although legally the commission cannot consider the impact to schools, Sachs said, "We do have an obligation to look at that and to offer some mitigation."

Building 200 apartments, he said, "would lessen the impact on traffic and it would lessen the impact on schools."

Other members of the Planning Commission said they'd hold off on any decision to lower the number of units until a traffic study is done and the environmental impact is considered.

Robert Klingner, who has a petition opposed to the Faria Preserve, complimented Lafferty for its outreach to the community, but criticized the apartments, parking, the park, the project's impact on schools and the increase in traffic.

"This doubles the amount of traffic in that neighborhood" and would add 30 minutes each way for commuters headed to Interstate 680, Klingner said. He said he represented the Coalition of Northwest Neighborhoods, which has 900 members.

Dennis Noh lives on Deerwood Lane, which is currently planned as one of the access points to the community.

"All we want is for the development to have its own entrance," he said.

Michael Jones accused the Planning Commission of violating Ordinance 197, which, he said, requires a vote when ridges or watersheds are altered.

Planning Commissioner Dennis Viers took aim at Jones' statement about Ordinance 197.

"We've had legal opinions and we've gone to court and what we're doing is legal," Viers said. He also said there's no evidence that low income housing would lower property values or cause blight.

Viers added that all the concerns he's heard so far have been "speculation."

"I'm not a traffic expert," he said, adding he wants more information, including more about the environmental impact, before making any decisions about the plan.

The next public hearing is set for Dec. 17.


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