Ending four years of community meetings, public hearings and countless land use, geotechnical and architectural studies, the City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday to allow the construction of 51 super-large estate homes in the Kottinger Hills in exchange for the gift of nearly 500 acres of public open space, hiking and equestrian trails and other amenities.
The vote, with Councilwoman Cindy McGovern the lone opponent, came late at night after three hours of presentations and public comments on the project, known as Oak Grove. The homes will be built on 77 acres of a 562-acre site at the end of Hearst Drive in Kottinger Ranch. The property is owned by Jennifer, Frederic and Kevin Lin, who live elsewhere, but are major property owners and developers throughout the region.
The vote Tuesday was a bit of déjà vu. Back in 1992, the first project proposed by the Lin family called for 86 homes on the hilltop acreage, to be built around an 18-hole championship golf course. The City Council, with then-Mayor Ken Mercer in charge, voted 3-2 in favor of the project. Homeowners in the newly-built Kottinger Ranch, also developed by the Lins, were outraged and garnered support from across Pleasanton to reverse the council's approval in a referendum at the ballot box in 1993. By then, Ben Tarver had been elected mayor with Tom Pico and Becky Dennis also elected to the council. They also opposed the project and lobbied heavily in favor of the referendum.
At last Tuesday's public hearing, several Kottinger Ranch homeowners denounced the 51-home project and adjacent ridgeland deal where the city will install public parking, lights, restrooms and other trailhead facilities. They said the homes and public park visitors could add more than 600 car-trips per day on Hearst Drive, which has been a dead-end, barricaded street since Kottinger Ranch was built.
Others complained that the large size of the homes would create sight obstructions to the views they enjoy of the Kottinger hills and other ridgelands.
"My home is 3,950 square feet," said Bob Grove of the nearby, gated Grey Eagle community. "These homes would be three times as big. The visual representations (by the developer) are grossly understated."
Carla Brown, vice president of the Kottinger Ranch Homeowners Association, said she and three other board members oppose the project even though board president Bing Hadley told the council that the HOA favors it.
"We need more information," Brown said. "We want to consult with an attorney on the impact this will have. The estimated 612 additional car trips a day that this project will bring do not preserve the character of our neighborhood."
Hadley said Brown and others from Kottinger Ranch who spoke against the project Tuesday night--about 15 in all--were the vocal minority.
"I can confidently say that a majority of homeowners believe that the compromise path we went down is the right thing to do," he said.
Another Kottinger Ranch board member, Mike Regan, said that while he would be happy to see no homes built in the hills, the compromise worked out with the developers to reduce the original 98 homes that were planned to 51 units is "an arrangement that benefits all of us."
"This is an opportunity to put a border and preserve at the south end of Pleasanton," he said. "It's a chance for an easement in perpetuity. This will be the end of any development here."
Councilman Matt Sullivan, who led the council's wrap up discussion Tuesday and recommended approval of the project, said the Lin family had the right to develop their property on the basis of the 1996 General Plan, which allows 98 homes on the 562 acres.
"We here on this council today inherited that General Plan," Sullivan explained. "Frankly, had I been on the City Council then, I would not have voted for it."
When the Lins submitted their plan for a 98-home development, Sullivan said he initiated meetings with the neighborhood and others to see if any compromises could be worked out. At the same time, Mayor Jennifer Hosterman held meetings with Attorney Marty Inderbitzen and investor James Tong of Pleasanton to gain their support in persuading the Lins to reduce the number of homes being planned.
All this occurred last year when Sullivan and Hosterman also began negotiations with land owners, developers and public interest groups in their pursuit of a 2,000-acre swath of publicly-owned open space stretching from the Callippe Preserve Golf Course east to Shadow Cliffs Regional Park.
The meetings paid off with the Lins agreeing to reduce the number of homes to 51 on 77 acres, and donating the rest of the land to the city of Pleasanton.
"I know not everybody has what they want, but if you put it all together you have a good project," Sullivan told those in the audience Tuesday. "It also opens the door to do a lot more for the southeast hills."
Besides their comments on the Oak Grove proposal, some Kottinger Ranch homeowners told stories about night-time rowdiness, pot smoking and campfires involving people they said were "outsiders," "unattractive non-native people" and "teenagers."
"My main concern is safety," said Carolyn Newton. "This is a very dry area; the roads (that are planned) will be remote and difficult to reach. With all of the influence of the kinds of people who use these areas--drunks, the campfire thing--I'm concerned about that."
Others said cars filled with young people often park along Hearst Drive and Benedict Court and then walk around barriers into Kottinger Hills. On July 4, some lit firecrackers and left open campfires burning. They asked for extra police patrols once the hills are converted to public areas that would be more readily accessible.
As part of the development agreement, city officials said they will install a gate to the trailhead facilities and parking area that will be locked at dusk.
Soil preparation and initial lot grading for the homesites are expected to start next spring. By agreement, the developers will build the trailhead, trails and all public facilities by the time the fifth home is sold and constructed.