Planning Commission sends ball field back to the drawing board | February 20, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - February 20, 2009

Planning Commission sends ball field back to the drawing board

Commissioners say no to batting cages, lights for Lowe family

by Geoff Gillette

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.

Members of 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.

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.