As local environmental organizations celebrate a recent victory over the withdrawal of the New Farm project, concern is growing over a new development on the same site.
"This is a victory for everyone who loves the Bay Area and wants to see its farms, forests, and watersheds protected," said Matt Vander Sluis, senior field representative for Greenbelt Alliance. "New Farm would have broken urban limit lines put in place by an overwhelming majority of voters. For anyone who loves these lands, this news brings a sigh of relief."
Submitted in 2007 by developer consultant Tom Koch on behalf of his client (and former Jordanian transportation minister) Samir Kawar, New Farm called for 187 residential units on 771 acres of rural land. The project proposed cultivating olive trees and providing community gardens and staging areas for trails, but requested new land use designation called "rural mixed use," which would cluster development on agricultural lots.
Several conservation groups, including Save Mount Diablo and the Sierra Club, battled the proposal calling New Farm inconsistent with the county's General Plan and development boundary (urban limit line). FT Land and Kawar pulled the plug on New Farm in February, with plans to submit a new development application for Tassajara Parks.
The main difference between New Farm and Tassajara Parks, county Advance Planning Chief Patrick Roche said, is that the forthcoming development does not request a land use designation change. The Tassajara Parks Proposal calls for a change to Contra Costa County's urban limit line, moving the boundary by 30 acres from its current location at the easternmost edge of the Blackhawk and Alamo Creek neighborhoods onto a portion of the 155-acre northern parcel.
"This Tassajara Parks project is different in the kind of pattern of resident development," Roche said. "It would be the more conventional density you would find for residential development, with five to seven units to an acre."
The developer's application includes 158 housing units on the portion of the parcel outside the urban limit line (ULL), with much of the remaining 700-plus acres of property offered as open space to the East Bay Regional Park District. The project requests an extension of the ULL that would bring the development within its boundaries.
"We're encouraged but the devil is in the details. San Ramon residents rejected Measure W and Danville citizens have organized over changes proposed to their town's General Plan. Any change to urban limit lines should require a very high level of public benefit," said Seth Adams, Save Mount Diablo's land programs director.
Voters approved Measure L in 2005, which made the countywide ULL coterminous with city limits. Measure L also changed the procedural requirements for expansion of the urban limit line, with any changes over 30 acres requiring a countywide vote. Tassajara Parks does not invoke Measure L.
"This would be the first time in my memory when we've gotten a proposal to expand the urban limit line for purposes of residential development," Roche said. "This does require a reset of the (California Environmental Equality Act) button."
Roche added that since the ULL was implemented in 1991, most changes have been contractions or movement of line inward.
Kawar and his team are continuing to make adjustments to the Tassajara Parks plan, Roche noted. Once plans are submitted, the county will determine whether the application is complete and issue a notice of preparation indicating that the revised project with require a new environmental review.
"To make the Bay Area an even better place to live, we need to continue protecting the region's open spaces while encouraging development of walkable neighborhoods with easy access to jobs, services, and transit," Vander Sluis said. "If this new proposal breaks long-standing open space protection policies, you can expect to see voters across the county stand up to defend our shared conservation legacy."