Guest opinion: Foreign speculator proposes to break the urban limit line in the Tassajara Valley ***MAP*** | August 7, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Perspective - August 7, 2009

Guest opinion: Foreign speculator proposes to break the urban limit line in the Tassajara Valley ***MAP***

by Seth Adams, Director of Land Programs, Save Mount Diablo

The Weekly's recent "New Farm" article about proposed development in the Tassajara Valley came off as a Tom Koch puff piece. The proposal is to develop 771 acres - more than a square mile - in the Tassajara Valley into 186 units, mostly mansions, under the guise of expanding agriculture. The vineyards and olives that would be planted are really just an attempt to act as though this urban project would be agricultural.

Koch is a paid consultant who represents developers, in this case FT Land LLC. In reality, the project should be called the Koch-Kawar project after its owner, Samir Kawar, a Jordanian land speculator whose brother was convicted of illegal campaign contributions in the San Ramon Valley.

"New Farm" is an incredibly controversial project. It would bust the county Urban Limit Line, open huge areas outside of the line to speculation and development, and quite possibly bar whatever jurisdictions are involved from receiving Measure J transportation sales tax "return to source" funds.

Save Mount Diablo, Greenbelt Alliance, the Sierra Club and many others have been opposing Koch's plans for the Tassajara Valley for over 20 years.

The project would dump huge amounts of traffic on Camino Tassajara, affect endangered species and views of the scenic Tassajara hills, and require massive urban infrastructure such as the extension of water lines and sewer, which would further encourage growth - although the voters have repeatedly voted to protect the Tassajara Valley and hundreds of residents have attended public hearings to oppose development there.

This project is almost identical to the plan Koch-Kawar proposed two years ago to the County, to which we responded, at which point they switched to San Ramon, where we and the Town of Danville responded again, and now they're back at the County. It was an important issue in the recent Assembly race, and the San Ramon Valley County Supervisorial seat has turned over four times in part based on Tassajara development issues.

What Koch-Kawar didn't mention in the article is that they got the go ahead to do a General Plan Amendment Study - which doesn't suggest support at all - but then they failed to pay for the required planning work and Environmental Impact Report until now - so the County is just getting started.

It would have been useful to get a response from a planner - like Danville's, or the County's. Our discussions with County officials were that they didn't see any way in which the planning department could recommend this project. The process will be extremely political.

Koch-Kawar suggest that they have the right to do this project - they don't. Kawar has a couple of parcels, which gives him the right to build a couple of houses. What Koch-Kawar have proposed is creation of an entirely new zoning district and a massive subdivision, both of which are extremely speculative.

Koch-Kawar make the imaginative argument that, since the minimum parcel size on their land is 5 acres, they can simply take their full acreage, divide by 5, add density bonuses for some affordable housing for "farm workers" and build 186 units.

But just because there's a 5-acre minimum parcel size doesn't mean the number of units is simple division. Subdivision is entirely speculative and is affected by a wide variety of constraints such as the Urban Limit Line, landslides and steep hills, endangered species, etc. County policy discourages major subdivisions (five or more units) outside of the Urban Limit Line, or extension of urban services.

Koch-Kawar can't build this project without extending urban infrastructure into the Tassajara Valley - water, sewer, etc. - which the Urban Limit Line is supposed to block.

This project is a foreign investor's dream to get the horse's nose under the tent - the urban limit line. If Koch-Kawar can bust the Urban Limit Line here, the entire Tassajara Valley and much more will be threatened.

Contra Costa County Supervisors should not create a brand new, tailor-made zoning district just to satisfy a developer who makes lots of campaign contributions. They should continue to defend the County Urban Limit Line.

Founded in 1971, Save Mount Diablo has been instrumental in increasing protected open space on and around the mountain from 6,788 acres to almost 100,000 acres. SMD acquires land, responds to development projects, builds trails and restores wildlife habitat, and educates the public about threats to the mountain.


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