The San Ramon City Council discussed the proposed Faria Preserve residential development for nearly four hours Tuesday night before deciding to continue the public hearing to an undetermined date later this summer.
The additional time gives city staff an opportunity to analyze and report back on concerns raised by some council members about traffic impacts, creek disturbance, senior housing and pedestrian safety related to the project planned for northwestern San Ramon.
"I think a fair argument can be made that this project is too ambitious in trying to deliver housing units and community amenities at the expense of biological resources as well as the traffic and school impacts," Councilman Harry Sachs said during the meeting.
The proposal from developer Lafferty Communities would add 740 new homes and neighborhood amenities on an approximately 286.5-acre property near Deerwood and Bollinger Canyon roads. Plans call for single-family homes, town houses, condominiums, apartments and senior housing as well as plans for a community park, house of worship and educational facility.
The San Ramon Planning Commission approved the project May 6, but Sachs filed a call for council review of the commission's decision nine days later.
The councilman cited concerns about landslide risks and whether the project could obtain regulatory agency permits based on potential impacts to creeks, wetlands and natural habitats.
More than 100 citizens turned out for the public hearing Tuesday night, with some attendees standing in the hallway and even a few peering through exterior glass doors and windows as the main meeting room was standing-room only.
There were about 80 residents, plus nearly two dozen city officials and Lafferty representatives, in the council chambers for the start of the meeting -- above the room's posted maximum occupancy of 83. A majority of the attending citizens opposed the project.
"Before we unleash 740 homes on a prominent hillside overlooking the city -- with all the congestion that comes with it, the impact on our resources and view-shed -- I think we need to get off this locomotive and to sit down and face today's reality and to make a rational decision against another devastating and irreversible housing project," San Ramon resident John Youngblood told the council.
Before the public had gotten a chance to weigh in, Lafferty representatives and consultants presented to the council for about an hour and 15 minutes.
"We've had 23 public meetings ... The project changed as a result of all that work," said attorney Rick Norris, who represents Lafferty.
Norris said positive adjustments to the proposal included lessening the overall unit total from 786 to 740, increasing the affordable single-family home count by 28 and implementing a two-thirds reduction in creek impact.
Two of the developer's consultants also spoke, attempting to allay concerns raised in Sachs' call for review.
"We're very confident that post-construction residual vertical displacements will be negligible," said Uri Eliahu, president of geotechnical firm ENGEO, Inc. "The project is designed to the latest seismic standards, which just went into effect this year, so indeed no project in San Ramon has ever been held to those standards."
The planning commission's project endorsement included 231 conditions of approval and 31 environmental mitigation measures -- 13 of which were aimed at reducing, to a less-than-significant level, the development's impacts to site geology and soils.
Jeff Olberding, of Olberding Environmental, Inc., said he was confident the project could receive necessary permits from four key regulatory agencies: the Regional Water Quality Control Board, U.S Army Corps of Engineers, and federal and state fish-and-wildlife services.
The floor then opened for about 40 minutes to a dozen citizen speakers, a majority of whom denounced the project.
The opponents voiced concerns about a range of issues, including traffic safety, public school impacts, water supply, potential landslides, visual affects, quality of life for residents and whether city officials have acted properly during their Faria Preserve deliberations.
"I have no confidence in the things that (the consultants) say and the way they say it and the terminology that they use," resident Robert Klinger said. "You can't fool all the people all the time."
Klinger presented the council with a petition purportedly containing signatures from more than 500 San Ramon residents who oppose the proposed development.
The conversation then moved to the council, and Sachs expanded upon the concerns outlined in his call for review.
The councilman said he wanted three new provisions added to the project: more senior housing in one neighborhood to alleviate issues with commute traffic and schools, construction of an off-site pedestrian walkway at Norris Canyon and Bollinger Canyon roads, and a reduction in overall residential units.
"These additional mitigations, the three that I have proffered up, would serve to promote a greater balance between development and preservation," Sachs said.
The developer's vice president of operations, Pat Toohey, told the council earlier in the meeting, "We're not here to lose any more units tonight ... We think we've done a good enough job."
After Sachs spent nearly 30 minutes reading a prepared statement, the other councilmen shared some of their thoughts and concerns.
"I think the creek can be avoided entirely, and there are ways of doing that. Is that overly ambitious? Perhaps it is, but maybe it's not," Vice Mayor Phil O'Loane said. "Now avoidance, to me, doesn't mean avoid doing the project."
In the end, the council asked city planning staff to further explore five issues: the proposed off-site walkway, impacts to Interstate 680 on- and off-ramps at Bollinger Canyon Road, senior housing, traffic study estimates for the new neighborhood and ways to reduce negative creek impacts.
The council decided to re-open the public hearing (which had been closed after the end of public testimony) and continue the matter to an unspecified future date. Council members indicated they planned to hold a special meeting on the issue later this summer.
Approximately 45 residents were still in attendance by the time the council approved the continuance motion just before 11:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The concept for developing the Faria Preserve property has gone through several iterations over nearly the last decade, including a prior version of the project that was approved by the city in 2006 and led to lawsuits from environmental organizations that were ultimately settled.
A modified, post-settlement project proposal was approved by the city council in 2008 but was never built.
The property changed hands in 2012, and Lafferty filed revised project applications that October. The proposal has been under city review ever since.