Home ball field goes back to the drawing board

Planning Commissioners say no to batting cages, lights for Lowe family

It's another trip up to the plate for the Lowe family and another trip back to the dugout, with no resolution in their attempt to keep a 15,000-square-foot athletic field built on a ridgeline near their home on El Alamo.

The Danville Planning Commission held a public hearing on a request from David and Connie Lowe to approve the movement of 273 cubic yards of earth but ended up continuing the matter to get more information. The soil was graded and removed as part of the construction of the field back in 2007.

The Lowe family ran afoul of their downhill neighbors when they built the athletic field, complete with 14-foot high netting fence, artificial turf and electricity for lighting on an adjacent property. The field was to serve as a practice facility for Lowe's San Ramon Valley Little League team.

Because the work was done without permits, the town stepped in and required the family to go through the Planning Commission to get the required permitting. Neighbors opposed the plan and called for the fences to be removed and the work stopped.

At their Aug. 28, 2007, meeting, the commissioners denied the request and asked that the fences be lowered to the six-foot maximum allowed.

The family went back to the drawing board, hiring architects and working with town planners. A year and a half later, the Lowes were back before the Planning Commission at its Feb. 10 meeting.

Town Planner David Crompton said that the research they have done indicates that the only aspect of the field which requires town approval at this point is the grading that was done and the soil removed.

In his staff report, Crompton said the usage was consistent with the zoning for that parcel and that the retaining wall at the field did not carry enough weight to require permitting. He added that given the work done by the family to comply with the town, staff was recommending approval.

Land use attorney Allan Moore, representing the Lowe family, outlined some of the changes being made. Those include plans to reduce the fencing to six feet and changing from the net fence to a wire fence. He added that they have submitted an extensive landscaping plan, which would include planting oak trees on the east and west sides to serve as screening and reduce visual impact.

Moore said the parcel is zoned for single family use and a field of this sort is consistent with that use.

"We're not planning a home there now or in the immediate future. This open space use is much less intrusive then the residence that would be proposed there," he said.

Commission members questioned Moore about whether the facility is still slated to be used for team practices. Moore responded by saying that field would be for personal use, prompting a question from Commissioner Bob Combs, "Can you tell me what personal and sole residential use is?"

Combs asked how many children would be using the field, to which Moore responded, "Can I put a number on that? If you have a back yard, your kids are going to have friends over. It's no different than people having their kids' friends over."

A number of questions were raised regarding the retaining wall, drainage, erosion and the use of artificial turf.

During the public portion of the hearing, neighbor Joni Wolf spoke out against the plan. Wolf called the town to task for allowing the project to go forward.

"This was preventable," she said, "so why did the Town of Danville let this happen."

She added, "Why aren't we talking about penalties about this? Why are we talking about retroactive approval?"

Wolf expressed concern about the artificial turf field and the possibility of lead leeching into the soil or dust from the field settling into the neighbor's properties.

She said she understands about being able to make improvements on private property, but there is more than just their property affected. "Yes, it's their back yard, but I don't think they should have this sense of entitlement. This is a hillside that impacts the area in a lot of ways," she said.

Wolf asked the commissioners that if they were going to approve the field that they force the Lowes to take out a bond in the event that the structure causes any damage or loss in property value in the future.

After the public hearing was closed, commissioners discussed the issues they felt still needed to be addressed, such as the fencing, the landscaping and erosion control. They said no to batting cages and lights for the field.

Commissioner Bob Combs said he felt that there were enough issues raised that the request should be tabled.

"I'm feeling reticence to approve anything tonight. I think that maybe it ought to go back to Design Review Board first and get a couple of things solved. I'm on the Design Review Board and so is Commissioner Storer so it wouldn't be hitting us blind," he explained.

Commissioner Robert Storer agreed.

"I don't know what the hurry is," he said. "It's been 18 months. They didn't come back immediately, the neighbors are still upset. There are still things unresolved. Why don't we do this process the way it's supposed to?"

After some brief discussion, commissioners voted unanimously to continue the request.

The Lowe family declined to comment following the meeting.


Like this comment
Posted by cardfark
a resident of Danville
on Feb 13, 2009 at 10:05 am

The Town of Danville has no clothes.

This family arrogantly thumbed its nose at the town's permitting rules multiple times, built that ridiculous private playground when they should have been stopped by Order and made to restore the ridgeline, and now they're going play the Town for a fool until their kid goes off to college.

I think the Town should have required those folks to roll up all that artificial turf and reinstall it at the public dog park at Hap Magee Park.

And my question is: henceforth, why would ANYbody bother to listen to what the Town of Danville "requires" in its permitting process? Just threaten them with a lawsuit and they'll scurry for cover, and pretend to work it out.

No clothes, I say. What say you?

Like this comment
Posted by Don H. Seymore
a resident of Danville
on Feb 16, 2009 at 11:23 am

Permits or not, why on earth would anyone need a private ball field? Maybe they should build a couple of private robotic little league teams to use it, too. What a waste.

Like this comment
Posted by cardfark
a resident of Danville
on Feb 16, 2009 at 12:13 pm

As I recall the fable they sold to the media (professionally-done video puff-piece included), the dad was a "very" important finance figure, who wanted to coach his kid's Little League team (awww), but couldn't possibly bestir himself to drive ten minutes to the nearest public facility.

Solution -- why, build your own private Xanadu Field, replete with artificial turf, ignoring the permitting rules and even a stop-work order. Then argue how wasteful it would be to have to tear it down, darkly hinting at litigation if the Town actually enforces its rules.

Maybe this is why the Town concentrates its fire on the likes of that lady on Diablo Road who had the temerity to pave a dusty few feet in front of her property, by the freeway.

Two further thoughts:

1 -- the A's should hire ol' dad to aleve their siting tribulations, and

2 -- good luck, Alamo! Be careful what you vote for.

Like this comment
Posted by Temerity Lady
a resident of Danville
on Feb 17, 2009 at 12:51 pm

“Maybe this is why the Town concentrates its fire on the likes of that lady on Diablo Road who had the temerity to pave a dusty few feet in front of her property, by the freeway.”

At the December 16, 2007, meeting of the town council, Danville town planners instigated the following agenda item:

14A Consider adoption of Resolution No.151-2008, declaring a public nuisance at 484 Diablo Road and ordering its abatement.

Passed unanimously by council members, this pathway being ordered for abatement (tearing out), conforms to the American Disability Act (ADA) for wheelchair access to downtown Danville. It increases pedestrian safety and reduces liability for the Town and property owner from injury incurred by pedestrians’ tripping over dirt, gravel and deteriorating asphalt. Planners showed no evidence of cars parked on pavement marked “NO PARKING” which they claim as reason for abatement.

What is the difference between this 484 property and installing a playing field without a permit? The 484 property owner believes commonsense and the court of pubic opinion will prevail. The Lowe’s believe their legal fees, after years of haggling with public officials, ending up with only an expensive backyard playground for their kids, was worth it.

Proponents of incorporation for Alamo say you can RECALL CITY HALL. But can you?


Like this comment
Posted by Powermom
a resident of Danville
on Feb 21, 2009 at 2:58 pm

One doesn't have to be an attorney to recognize that allowing the
Lowe family to brazenly do whatever they want without permits on a
PROTECTED RIDGELINE and then retroactively approving below-standard
construction would be a horrible precedent. The day the planning board votes to allow this ugly hillside pimple to stand in any form
will be the day that city planning and zoning for Danville will be rendered meaningless. Anyone will be able to come forward and do the same thing...because, well, the Lowes did. We will look like
LA in no time.

Like this comment
Posted by LoweNoMo
a resident of Danville
on Feb 21, 2009 at 3:07 pm

Power mom is right. When the Lowes built their house years ago, they had to sign off on many special limitations for their home lot and the side lot where the field has been built. There were many special limitations because the Lowes had chosen to purchase a protected ridgeline property. A better idea for a young couple contemplating a family would have been to buy a nice flat lot off of
Camino Tassajara south of Danville. They could do whatever they want out there...ponies, paintball fields, pools, tennis. So to claim now they can do "whatever" they want in their backyard...well, no they can't. Trying to change the rules "later" after thumbing their nose at ordinances, threatening to sue their neighbors for daring to complain about lights, batting cages, 14 foot fences and noise, building a flimsy structure with no respect for downhill neighbors....should NOT be rewarded!

Like this comment
Posted by Alamoana
a resident of Alamo
on Feb 21, 2009 at 3:15 pm

Hang in there, planning commissioners! You did the right thing, not only for this project, but for the future of development in Danville and the surrounding area. Being allowed to build a home on a protected ridgeline is not a's a privilege. The rest of us buy permits, follow the inspectors' rules and try to be good
Reward US with careful analysis of all building plans and punish lawbreakers like the Lowes. Do Lowe's business partners in San Francisco know what a lousy citizen he is?

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