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From “Train Wreck” To Legal Lightning Rod; Lafayette’s Terraces Get A Green Light

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Lamorinda's latest big housing project gets a new look.

Re-drafted and re-released under a new name and softened new look after it was peppered by criticism both public and architectural, the bloodied “Terraces” project – now known as the Homes at Deer Hill – finally met with approval from the Lafayette city council last Monday.

The unanimous decision – with Vice Mayor Traci Reilly recusing herself after lending her signature to a petition opposing the project prior to her election in 2012 – allows The O’Brien Land Company to build 44 clustered single-family homes on the former site of an old quarry site at the nexus of Highway 24 and Pleasant Hill Road.

The homes, each carrying million dollar price tags and featuring Lafayette-friendly amenities including sports fields and dog runs, are a far cry from the Terraces of Lafayette project proposed by O’Brien and landowner Anna Maria Dettmer more than four years ago.

While many still oppose the development, caddy-corner from Acalanes High School and fronting Deer Hill and Pleasant Hill roads, is a far cry from the initial project design one local planning commissioner blasted as “train wreck architecture.”

GardenShed

The project, possibly the most contentious in city history, sparked threats of legal action and hyperbole from all sides and pressed forward Monday despite additional, Eleventh Hour threats of a lawsuit by affordable housing advocates.

O’Brien changed direction and pushed its single family re-design in 2013 after the company’s representatives, frustrated by the project’s lack of progress, threatened lawsuits of their own in response to delays in processing the city’s environmental review.

In keeping with the often rancorous background of the project, members of the Bay Area Renters’ Federation present at Monday’s meeting hinted at legal action of their own, objecting to zoning changes they said removes any chance of providing housing for people of moderate income in Lafayette.

21 COMMENTS

  1. “Caddy-corner?” Somebody (and/or their parents) grew up in the south or south-east. Here we say “kitty-corner.”

    Funny that sports fields and dog parks are the “Bread and Circuses” of modern Lamorinda. I don’t recall “not enough free goodies” as amongst the principled objections of the original anti-development crowd….

  2. If location is really the true measure of any good real estate venture then I would still have to question the placement of this project and its impact on traffic in that area of town.

  3. Let’s just keep building until the area is completely impassable and then we’ll just have one great big pedestrian mall. It won’t be through choice but at least we will have one.

  4. I can’t imagine living there but that doesn’t mean someone else wouldn’t find the prospect appealing. I do think traffic on Pleasant Hill road will be even worse than it is now if that is possible.

  5. Do the 44 homes get built on the hill or does the hill get graded away? The positive is that there will be one less brown hilltop for a grass fire to ruin.

    Traffic seems to top a lot of people’s frustrations in our 3 towns. While new homes contribute to the problem, I wonder if there is more to the issue than just new homes. I don’t find major intersections and highway on/offs to be all that efficient (most designed prior to the rise of the great big SUV). I question the lack of yellow school buses (implying there are far too many single driving teenagers and/or parents driving their kids to school). Simple fixes could be made but the righteous would revolt. How about an on/off ramp that cuts through Wilder and daylights somewhere West of OSH in Moraga.

  6. … and a drive-in movie theater. You won’t be able to hear the movie because of all the street noise but the kids won’t care!! And a water park, yeh – go big or go home!!

  7. The issue is mainly traffic in that area, my young son goes to Springhill and then Hideout after school. It can take me 20 minutes just to get off the freeway and onto Pleasant Hill Road to get him from school. There was even an evening where something was going on and the whole street was backed up onto the freeway and into Walnut Creek. I couldn’t get to my son at all. It completely freaked me out. If the city engineers would just figure out the timing of those traffic lights by Acalanes High School, it would get better. I timed the light at Acalanes, 30 seconds was all that it stayed green, it only let 8 cars through. It is not rocket science, just let the lights stay green a couple of minutes and then a miracle can happen….

  8. Some of those development ideas are interesting, but to put a Layfayette stamp on it to make it ours, the designs need to carefully engineer limited spaces to confirm that there is not enough parking. And we need some left turn lanes with quick lights and cars backing out of spaces just inside the entrance so we can have cars stuck perpendicular to oncoming traffic. Otherwise it won’t “feel” like Lafayette.

  9. @Cory K – I face same issue. Where are you coming from? WC or 680? If WC, take the side street. Much faster.

    By the way is that a traffic circle in that one pic? If so, cue mass hysteria by Lafayette drivers.

  10. As someone who lives and owns in Lafayette, uses Pleasant Hill interchange to get on my way to and from work, and will have a son who will eventually go to Acalanes (my step daughter went to Campolindo – talk about a mess is Moraga road, Stanley & Lafayette Elementary). I support this proposal far more than the original idea of a large apartment complex. Will there be some more traffic during school hour rush? Yes, but far less with this proposal than the apartment complex and some fixes & timing as noted will go a long way. Also, a left out of the complex onto & Deer Hill gives commuter another on ramp to Hwy 24.. That is a big plus in my support
    .
    But my support of the latest proposal also comes with the principle of private property rights. This is private property and believe that the owners have every right to develop just as I had the privilege of buying a house on property that someone else developed once upon a time. I also moved here from somewhere else much more affordable, like most places I have lived. I believe California’s high housing cost is in part because in other places you don’t have nearly the nymbism, restrictions and review by committee as you do in California. Its time for the owner to have to the opportunity to move forward. Otherwise, housing will only get more expensive and the benefactors of this will continue to be consultants & lawyers, real estate agents and eventually tax collectors.

  11. Tim: Would you object to developers building a Super Center Walmart next to your house? Protestors in Galt, east of here in the Central Valley, did and failed to stop it. A significant amount of traffic now goes right through their neighborhood to get there. It’s real. That is a difference between Galt and Lamorinda. In Lamorinda, property owner’s rights for those who already live here are valued. Property rights go both ways. Here, large developments are degrading the reasons people moved here in the first place. The schools don’t have the space for large development, nor do the limited streets, or business parking or other infrastructure. Look at the school site discussions about bringing in temporary trailers to put students that don’t have space. I am guessing without actual knowledge of the subject that those trailers on the Stanley school field are to address overcrowding. How would you like to be a long term resident and now your kid spends his day in a trailer? New development forces the current owners to bear the costs that developers force on the rest of the area. Don’t current owners have property rights also?

  12. Napolean, there is also difference between building a Super Walmart on this site and 44 homes that has access to the freeway, downtown whether you go right or left. Opponents assume that all drivers will take a right onto Deer Hill. I just think opponents have gotten to the point where they refuse to even look at a traffic pattern and options because they would not support their hyper inflated comments. Nor do I buy the argument that this will degrade the area. It has already gone from a 315 unit apartment complex to a 44 home development, from renters to home ownership. Nor do I see opponents arguing for me as a resident to buy this property out right. At least you could have the gumption to ask me to help pay for open space that comes at the luxury of someone’s else expense (guess what, some one pays property tax also). Would you support paying to repave your street if you neighborhood didn’t have to? we can go around with these comments and questions.

    Just because you lived here longer or maybe you can afford a more pricier home higher on the hill or maybe fortunate to pay a lot less & banking on high real estate prices as retirement but we now get the sky is falling routine every time something is proposed or built. As far as being resident, I have already had a kid at Stanley and certainly not going anywhere anytime soon If I can help it. Guess what, I also had a kid go to school in a trailer and still reinforced in my belief that its about the teacher and more importantly my wife and I being the best parents we can be. Will we need to expand our schools in the future, I don’t know but the idea of massive influx of students is baseless. Based on natural averages we now have 2.1 kids per household at best, 44 homes would take that to less than 100 people based on national average and maybe half of those being kids of varying ages.
    .
    I also still own my old home in the St Louis area. If your worried about your home value. I can tell you that having a home in a stagnant community, no growth community with a neighborhood with less kids & growing fixed incomes is not pretty on the home values or trying to sell.

  13. Napolean, I’m also trying to comprehend how your property rights are infringed upon. Do you have to tear down your house because of this proposal? Do you have to move because of this proposal? Are you required to plant trees, redo landscaping or repaint your because of this proposal?
    .
    I would love the fact that I would be entitled to a half hour commute every morning but is doesn’t my rights are infringed upon because 5 minutes along the way now becomes 10 minutes. Do I want preserve more open space, add more bike trails, repave some more streets in our community or should we add more police men or pay more so the fire district keeps the status quo or even re open all fire stations. I will yes to all until we have to find way to pay and therefore prioritize.
    .
    Heck, the corner was zoned commercial once upon a time and now the community is getting more public space and facilities. Heck, maybe some of our fellow residents who won’t pick up their dog’s poo on the lafeyette ridge trail nearby will use the new dog park instead. I just think you got a good compromise at end of day.

  14. So you agree with me then that current residents have rights. That Super Walmart story is not fiction. And that would be unacceptable to you. Great. That’s half the battle. Now, let’s discuss neoliberalism, or the view that money is the correct measure of everything. Milton Friedman’s ghost still haunts.

    You mention that we should offer up extortion money to keep developers from building on open space. I would respond that the market fails here. Developers can just look at the difference between the cost of the land and building and what they can sell it for, and their calculations end there. The costs of overcrowding, infrastructure stress, traffic, the erasure of the semi-rural environment many moved here for, more crime, and that you will no longer find an early morning space at BART to park are shoveled on us. Those are costs we bear. So instead of us paying protection money to the developer to not build, he should be paying the city and us the true cost of the development. He doesn’t. The market fails. It’s not that anti-growth advocates are anti-property rights. Rather, it’s that the market fails to price this process correctly and forces current residents to subsidize the developers. You may want to subsidize developers, but I really don’t.

  15. Napolean, their is no such thing as a market price in California anymore, let alone the bay area. I take it differently, you want your lifestyle subsidized because you want to keep people out so you don’t have to compete for BART parking spaces, whether in time and or BART pricing to demand, etc… Everywhere else I have lived and most places have worked outside of California & New York/New Jersey (I’m on 4 house in 4th state) is so much more affordable because the hurdles to build in California from Nimbyism to environmental regulations to litigation to construction cost is through the roof. My bet is that you have been here long enough to benefit in the rise of home values yet your latest argument is new home owners need to be paying even more.

  16. Ghost of Milton? WTH? I think his wise “spirit” still guides us. 🙂

    In any case, these issues are better understood through the lens of fellow Nobel Laureate, Ronald Coase.

    People’s sense of “fairness” will depend on the (actual or imagined) starting positions of the two property owners. Instead of picking winners and losers on an ad hoc basis, the best system will establish and assign clear rights upfront and let them “run with the land” and in changes hands.

    For those who claim Dr. Friedman’s ideas are outmoded (or were never valid), I would just point out that the principled objections of the anti-development crowd somehow seem to yield to various shakedown payments extracted from developers in cash or in kind (“free” parks and public green space). This, to me, is just as Friedman predicts.

  17. Tim: Yes, its an interesting discussion. And while we could discuss the pros and cons of private property and nimbyism, the tipping point for me is the commercial aspect. It would be fine with me if residents en masse decided to start taking BART more often and I lost my space. But instead, investors can buy and develop property and increase the congestion. These are not people who have a stake in the community and they do not bear the consequences of their actions. The cost to us ranges from the lost space at BART to having too many kids for the schools to hold and more. This afternoon I looked into a classroom that my kid will be going to and obviously the number of tables was way too much. I am in favor of making it difficult for developers because they certainly are making it difficult for us.

    Chris: Nobel prizes in economics are handed out for making major contributions to the subject, not for being right. If you took fellow winners Friedman and Krugman, you would be hard pressed to find any common ground of agreement. The Coase solution is really interesting and creative enough to be considered Nobel material. But the real world has contracting costs, information barriers, and economic agents that are not as rational as the theorm assumes. In the same way, Friedman’s macroeconomics were darned interesting, but does not describe the world we actually live in.

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