A massive area of open space on the eastern edge of Danville may be developed, under a plan proposed to create a mixed agricultural/residential community.
FT Land LLC has filed an application with Contra Costa County for approval of the New Farm development, a community they say will consist of 186 housing units, more than 210 acres of irrigated agriculture and nearly 500 acres of open space.
The site for the proposed project is an undeveloped area located on the south by Camino Tassajara and to the east by Finley Road.
This is the next step in a process that started two years ago.
"We received initial approval by the Board of Supervisors to consider a general plan study in the summer of 2007," said project consultant Tom Koch. "It's basically a hunting license, if you will. It's an approval to go off and see if a project can work."
Koch said they have spent their funds over the last two years working on the plan and now they have it at a point where they are ready to go back to the county.
"We're very excited about this plan. It's a different package than anything you've seen before. Things that are traditional and routine we're not doing here," he stated.
Koch said they are very excited about the possibility of growing food on the parcel. Current plans call for grapes, olives and other fruits to be grown on the farm. At full capacity, the agricultural land is expected to produce around 2 million pounds of food per year.
Space will also be set aside for community gardens. Koch said as they get further into the planning stage they will be contacting the school district to work on a partnering arrangement to allow students to come out and help at the community farm.
"In our mind that's a great opportunity to involve students at all grade levels in learning about agriculture," he explained. "It will be a chance for them to get their hands dirty."
In addition to the housing, agriculture and open space elements, the plan also calls for a number of community amenities expected to help bring people into the homes including a fire training facility for San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District; a church; parks and trails; and a cemetery.
One potentially controversial issue sure to be discussed as this plan makes its way through the approval process is the fact that the parcel exists outside the urban limit line. In 2004, county voters approved an urban limit line that would require any uses that occurred outside the line to be within certain limitations as far as uses and density were concerned.
Koch said the New Farm plan conforms to what is required outside the limit line.
"People think that an urban limit line means that nothing can be built past that line," he explained. "That's not the case."
The New Farm development is set up so that percentage-wise the density of the project would be five acres for each homeowner. Where this differs from the norm is that each home will not be on a five-acre parcel. They instead will be on one-acre parcels, but surrounded by acres and acres of open space and farmland.
"It's a clustering concept," he said. "The housing is done in such a way that it will be nestled in little pockets."
The total number of units in the plan is 186; 153 would be single family homes, 33 would be designed for moderate to low-income housing. A small number of the low-income housing would be rental units, which Koch said would be aimed at housing the farm workers.
Another area of concern has been water and the effect that a large agricultural area would have on the already stretched supply. Koch said that they have already entered into an agreement with a private water supplier. "We've purchased our own water supply, more than enough for our agricultural element," Koch said.
When plans to develop this parcel came up before, there was strong opposition. Koch said this time their plan is one that conforms to what is required beyond the urban limit line and will keep density down.
Danville Town Council member Candace Andersen is one of those who has serious concerns about development in the Tassajara Valley, and is cautious but curious about the development being proposed.
"What they're proposing is interesting, because it would maintain the agricultural aspect," she said. "But the underlying question is can they develop New Farm and still honor the urban limit line?"
Andersen said one of their chief concerns with any new development going into the Tassajara Valley is how it's going to affect Danville. Primarily the concern in this case is how will an influx of new residents affect traffic flow on Camino Tassajara and into Danville.
She added that high-schoolers in New Farm would likely go to Monte Vista High School, which already suffers from traffic issues at school start and end times.
An additional twist, and one that is causing a great deal of stir in Danville, is that San Ramon has begun looking into increasing their sphere of influence to the eastern town boundary with Danville. Voters in San Ramon next year will be deciding on whether or not to increase their "urban growth line" if the city gets county approval to change their sphere of influence.
"If that happens," Andersen said, "they would have complete control in planning that entire area."