Pleasanton Weekly

News - July 6, 2007

Oak Grove project turned down in 3-2 vote

Planning Commission's recommendation will be forwarded on to City Council

by Janet Pelletier

In a split vote and after some contentious testimony, the Planning Commission turned down the Oak Grove housing and open space project.

Commissioners Anne Fox, Arne Olson and Greg O'Connor voted to not certify an environmental impact report while commissioners Jennifer Pearce and Kathy Narum dissented. Commissioner Phil Blank recused himself from voting on the project because he lives near the project area. O'Connor took his place.

The June 27 vote boiled down to mixed feelings about a proposed emergency vehicle access (EVA) road, photo simulations produced by a project consultant and house sizes.

Oak Grove proposes 51 custom homes in the southeast hills above Kottinger Ranch and the dedication of nearly 500 acres of open space for a citywide trail system.

"I'm a little disappointed that some of the stuff we've been asking for in the past six months hasn't been provided," O'Connor said, adding that he had asked for an analysis on the vibrational impacts to existing neighborhoods during construction that was never conducted.

"The EVA is still fluid," Olson said of his decision not to certify the environmental report. "We don't know exactly where it's going to be. There needs to be another access to the area and that may mean moving some of the (home) lots lower."

Fox said she shared Olson and O'Connor's concerns, adding that she felt the photo simulations of what the homes would look like on the ridgetops weren't to scale, a claim also made by many homeowners who live in the bordering Grey Eagle Estates.

"It's not just the (camera) lens issue, the houses in the simulation are 6,700-square-feet" and that's just not accurate, she said.

Fox said while she understood that each custom home would have to go back to the commission for a separate approval, she didn't think that was the right process.

"I think doing it piecemeal doesn't give a broader perspective for what the homes are going to look like," she said. "People are going to build as big a home as they can."

The vote came after some heated comments made by residents, most of whom criticized the project. Many brought their own props to illustrate why it shouldn't be approved.

Armed with a grocery bag of bricks from his garage, Grey Eagle Court resident Russell Schmidt used three to show commissioners that three-story houses on ridgetops would be an eyesore no matter how they were positioned.

Martha Evans, who also lives in Grey Eagle Estates, brought a 19th century book called "The Necklace of Truth," which she said was a story of a girl with a propensity to tell lies. When she told a lie, the necklace shortened.

Others came with their own photo simulations, explaining the time they spent in Photoshop putting them together and lambasting the ones produced by a project consultant.

"I think 80 percent of the project is good but you don't buy a car on 80 percent--you have to look at the other 20 percent," said resident Lee Fulton, who also brought his own simulations.

Some changes were made to the project plans since it was last heard by the commission June 13. As part of the Urban Wild Interface Plan, trees have to follow a 100-foot protection zone from each lot's property line to lessen fire danger.

Fire Chief Bill Cody said that doesn't mean trees have to be planted farther away, but rather those planted closer to the homes must have narrower trunks so they don't encroach on the home.

But residents and commissioners were concerned that would provide less screening of the custom homes.

Another change that the project applicant agreed to deal with is the size limits of the homes. No home would be allowed to exceed 20 percent of the entire lot's size, with a maximum of 12,500-square-feet.

Residents said they felt the concession from a previous limit of 18,000-square-feet wasn't enough because existing homes in Kottinger Ranch and Grey Eagle are only 4,000-square-feet.

"Twelve-thousand, five hundred-square-foot houses? It's ludicrous," said former Councilwoman Kay Ayala.

"Is this the type of housing stock that should be applied in the voter-referended housing cap?" she said, adding that she felt affordable housing should have been considered over large-scale homes.

No changes from the June 13 meeting were made to the emergency vehicle access plans, which were routed through Grey Eagle Court. Grey Eagle residents have said they were concerned about the liability of having an EVA through their private road as well as how exactly the access road would connect to the new development.

Longtime resident Howard Neely was the only person who spoke in support of the project, saying people need to stop having a NIMBY (not in my back yard) attitude.

"When I lived here, the hills were full of cows," he said. "We didn't complain about Vintage Hills, Vintage Hills 2 and even Kottinger Ranch" when they were built.

"The biggest mistake we made was allowing private roads and developments. When that happens, you start social problems," he said, in a reference to the gated Grey Eagle Estates community.

Marty Inderbitzen, an attorney representing the project applicants, said the donation of 500 acres of open space was getting lost in the discussion. He said residents' makeshift photo illustrations weren't trustworthy.

"The only truly valid illustrations...are the consultant's," he said. "(Residents) even admitted they weren't familiar with the photo programs."

The Oak Grove project will now be forwarded to the City Council with the commission's recommendations.

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