After over four hours of testimony at its Tuesday meeting, Danville's Planning Commission did not recommend that the Magee Ranch/SummerHill Homes project move to the next stage of development. The proposal would rezone and subdivide a 410-acre site at the southeast corner of Diablo and McCauley roads.
Sixty-nine single-family lots would be located on approximately 38 acres of the flatter portions of the site, avoiding the steeper slopes and ridges and leaving approximately 300 acres as permanent open space. The Commission had the opportunity to review the project's final environmental impact report (EIR) , recommend that the Town Council certify the document and approve the project, as well as determine whether approval would be subject to a public vote under Measure S. Commissioners tabled the decision May 14.
Traffic remained one of the biggest concerns, among both commissioners and residents who said the two-lane Diablo Road would be severely impacted. The development would add an addition 109 car trips in the morning commute hours and 59 in the evening, which Transportation Consultant Gary Black said would not be much of a noticeable change on the already congested road.
"This is a disaster. Traffic has been a problem out there since Magee Ranch went in and Blackhawk was developed. It is an existing condition, a very narrow road with a lot of people moving on it," said Commissioner Mark Graham. "It's a bad situation, but from all the statistical analysis that's been done, the numbers indicate that while it's a problem and it's always going to be a problem, adding a development in there doesn't show that it will be enough of a prob to not approve project."
Black and Danville's Community Development Director, Tai Williams, said traffic estimates for the project were conservative, with numbers collected for a 78-unit project instead of 69 units planned in SummerHill. Mitigation measures at the two intersections identified as being significantly impacted by traffic Hidden Oaks Drive at Blackhawk Road and Diablo Road/Green Valley Road/McCauley Road could be eased through installing traffic signals. SummerHill Homes' Wendi Baker said the developer would provide $1 million worth of intersection improvements to increase efficiency at the Diablo/Green Valley/McCauley intersection by 25 to 27 percent.
Commissioners were split on the thoroughness of traffic figures, as Commissioner Kerri Heusler felt satisfied by the "conservative criteria" but desired more assurance that the county would pay for part of a traffic signal, while Robert Combs asked SummerHill to come back with better traffic modeling and options for improved bicyclist safety.
Several attendees and members of local activist groups spoke about Measure S, which limits development on agricultural land and requires voter approval by ballot measure in order to move the development forward. In order to accommodate the development, portions of the site would need to be rezoned from A-4 (one home per 20 acres) and A-2 (one house per five acres) to clustered residential development (or P-1) to keep homes off hills and ridgelines.
One resident told the Commission that while she usually refrains from speaking up, she was afraid of becoming a "faceless email."
"I urge you to not approve the SummerHill project and implore you to not tread on my civil rights as a taxpaying citizen and prevent me from exercising my rights to vote on changing designations to agricultural land in Danville," she said.
Commissioners were also split on the legality of P-1 zoning. Alternate Commissioner Andrew Verriere said that while the issue isn't "as black and white as it possibly could be," Magee Ranch's designation as a special concern area in the 2010 General Plan makes clustered development a viable option.
"We had P-1 in the 2030 General Plan and it was quite clear that P-1 should not be there. It just comes down to simple fact that I think as much as I support the project, I can't support the project from a land use point of view," Commissioner Paul Radich said. "In my opinion this is not approved land use. I think there are some holes in the final EIR and a lot of questions need to be answered in regard to traffic."
Regardless of Measure S legality, several parks officials said they were pleased with the project. Brian Holt, senior planner for East Bay Regional Parks District, said he was pleased with the amount of open space protected in the development. Holt added that the SummerHill development would do a lot to expand the regional trail network.
The EIR also identified significant impacts to a variety of local wildlife -- including the Red Legged Frog, western pond turtle, burrowing owls, nesting raptors and migratory birds, as well as hydrology systems. Mitigation measures include compensating for approximately 0.8 acres of habitat. Planners also want to incorporate a detention basin, to be maintained by a geologic hazard abatement district, at the project outfall to capture storm water runoff and slowly meter it into Green Valley Creek.
Planners voted to continue the hearing on Magee Ranch/SummerHill Homes to an unspecified date, where issues of flood control, erosion, traffic modeling and clustered development will be readdressed.