Citizens for Civic Responsibility said that before the Danville Town Council gave the OK to develop the 15-acre Weber estate into homes, it first needed to do a comprehensive environmental study.
"The goal is to have an environmental impact report, and that's what the lawsuit is. It's based on the California Environmental Quality Act," said Kristin Trisko, a member of Citizens for Civic Responsibility. "It is legally the right thing to do."
"We are not saying to stop the development," she added.
The Danville Town Council approved the Weber project on Blemer Road and Matadara Way, in April, for Davidon Homes to build 22 single-family houses on a 15-acre parcel.
The developer's proposal includes donating 3.7 acres to the town and removing 26 town-protected trees. The Planning Division is to monitor the tree removals, and construction activities must halt at 5 p.m.
At the April meeting, dozens of neighbors expressed their dissatisfaction over the development. They said the project would negatively impact the surrounding environment, increase traffic, bring flooding and affect their privacy.
Trisko said state law mandates the town has to conduct an environmental impact report (EIR) because there were conflicting expert reports about the project.
Restoration ecologist John Cain of the Natural Heritage Institute, which is the residents' hired expert group, found substantial evidence that the project could result in potentially significant environmental impacts on the estate. He added in a memo to the town that there are wetlands on the property, which may be affected.
The Natural Heritage Institute is a non-government, nonprofit organization founded by conservation lawyers and scientists to restore and protect nature.
Town Attorney Rob Ewing agreed that state law says a town or any other legal agency authorized to approve a development must do an EIR if there are differing opinions from experts regarding a project. However, the expert studies must be of equal weight. And the ones done at the neighbors' request were not, he noted.
"It wasn't that we didn't think they weren't an expert," Ewing said. "They didn't spend as much time looking at the site."
"It was more that the folks whose expert opinions we were relying on had gone out and done detailed research and spent a lot of time onsite," he added.
The Contra Costa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District performed detailed studies on the estate and concluded the project would not cause any significant impacts. Davidon had to modify its project to be compatible with the neighborhood.
As a result of the town's findings, the council approved the project and approved a negative environmental declaration, which meant staff had done studies and an EIR was not needed, Ewing said.
"We did go through point by point," Ewing said. "We disagree that an EIR is required. We did look at all those issues and we did comply with CEQA. And we didn't think an EIR is required in this case."
Lucille Weber, who still lives on the property, previously owned the 15-acre parcel. Her estate donated it to the Salvation Army, which subsequently sold the property to Davidon Homes. Weber, according to excerpts from her will submitted by neighbors, stated she wanted her property to remain as open space.
The Planning Commission unanimously gave its OK to Davidon's application in February after studies found the project would not endanger the red legged frog. Commissioners have said the project is well designed and follows the Danville 2010 General Plan.