OAKLEY -- Complaints that the local school district has cast a cloud of uncertainty over a homebuilder's plans by dragging out a decision on where it wants to build another campus have prompted the city to intervene.
Although Oakley Union Elementary School District eventually will need an additional campus in the area known as the Cypress corridor, it didn't nail down a site over the past decade as developers forged ahead with plans for three large swaths of land along East Cypress Road.
Those projects, which include a large and long-awaited park, hinge on builders making enough to install the necessary underpinnings for sewer service and flood control. If the school district's choice of a site threatens those profits, the city has said it will offer other land to build the school. The possibility that the district might choose a location on a parcel known as the Gilbert property has troubled Steve Garrett, whose company intends to build 506 homes on that 120-acre area.
Selling a portion of that to the school district would sink the project, he says, explaining that he's banking on building all those houses to pay for the costly improvements he must make to the low-lying area -- a levee circumscribing nearly the entire property, a stormwater pond and pump stations to siphon off the pond's overflow as well as deliver sewage to the wastewater treatment plant.
Carving out even a few acres for a campus would diminish profits to the point that he couldn't install this infrastructure, Garrett said.
"The numbers don't work," he said.
If that happens, there's a domino effect: He can't build homes in a floodplain if there are no structures in place to protect or service them, Garrett said.
That, in turn, would prevent the neighboring Burroughs property from developing as well, because the approximately 120 homes planned for that area would be dependent on the Gilbert property's two pumping stations.
"They (wouldn't be able) to flush a toilet or drain their property," Garrett said.
And that means Oakley residents won't get 55 acres of park land north of the Contra Costa Canal that the three property owners have agreed to deed to the city in exchange for the right to develop their holdings.
Oakley only will acquire the park -- which adjoins an area that will become tidal marshlands known as the Dutch Slough Restoration Project -- once it approves a tentative map for the Burroughs project. That document will become unnecessary if no developer is interested in the property, Garrett said.
He became even more frustrated last month when Oakley's city manager, responding to criticisms that district Superintendent Rick Rogers had about other potential sites for a school, told Rogers that Oakley Union Elementary's only other option would be to acquire whatever property it needs through eminent domain, a power that government agencies have to buy property for the public's benefit over the landowner's objections.
In an effort to allay the concerns of Garrett and the Gilbert family, Oakley City Council members recently agreed that if the school district initiates eminent domain proceedings against the Gilbert property, they will offer to sell the school district part of an adjoining 27-acre parcel instead.
The council prefers waiting for that trigger to make the offer because it doesn't want to risk impeding residential development on that land, which is what would happen if the school district accepted the offer only to change its mind later, said Mayor Kevin Romick after the council meeting.
Garrett said he's bothered that the mention of appropriating a site has come up given that the district hasn't participated with him and the city's land-use approval discussions for half a dozen years.
Had the district long ago asked the city to require his company to provide a school site as a condition of approving the project, he would have walked away from it, Garrett said.
However, Rogers said that as of 2006, Oakley Union Elementary had, indeed, picked out a site for a school on the Gilbert property and he has the map to prove it.
But he never heard any more from developers once the housing market collapsed. Even after the economy began to turn around, Rogers said he only found out about their renewed interest in building up the area through the newspaper, at which point he reached out to them and the city.
But by then, the school site had disappeared from land-use planning maps for lack of a formal agreement among the district, developers and the Gilbert family.
What's more, Rogers denies that he threatened to invoke eminent domain to acquire the 12 acres he says the district needs for an elementary school in the Cypress corridor.
"We have a lot of other options to look at short of that," he said, noting that in addition to the Gilbert property, the district might consider a site north of the canal as well as one just east of the Burroughs property.
The district already has sites picked out for the three other schools it eventually will need to accommodate the additional students that the approximately 1,200 homes planned along the north side of East Cypress Road will generate.
Rogers said the district will need to identify the remaining location within the next year.
Meanwhile, he has scheduled a meeting next week with the city and the developers involved with all three properties to discuss the district's options.
"When reasonable minds get together, I'm optimistic that we can come up with something," he said.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.