ORINDA -- The city has agreed to do a full environmental report on a 3.2-acre parcel along Santa Maria Way for which it has proposed high-density zoning to comply with state housing requirements.

The agreement is part of a settlement, reached Thursday, of a lawsuit filed in December against the city by the nonprofit group Advocates for Lawful Environmental Review Today, or ALERT. The group consists of Orinda residents who want stricter environmental study of any proposed "ultra-dense housing" projects, said Craig A. Sherman, the nonprofit's attorney.

Zoning for the Santa Maria Way parcel was recently changed to accommodate multifamily housing. That zoning change was made in the interest of updating the city's "Housing Element," a state-mandated plan showing where Orinda could host low-income or affordable housing to meet state goals. For Orinda, those goals are 64 very-low and low-income units beyond those that exist today. City leaders eye the Santa Maria Way parcel as a potential site for such housing.

That update was for the "fourth cycle" of the city's housing plan; the environmental report, according to the settlement, would apply to the next update of the plan, referred to as the "fifth cycle." All such plan updates must be certified by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.


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In addition to agreeing to do a full environmental report on the Santa Maria Way property -- adjacent to the Santa Maria Church and owned by the Catholic Diocese of Oakland -- the city in the agreement asserts it will consider other sites beyond that 3.2-acre parcel as prospective locations for affordable housing.

There has been local opposition to a densely built housing project there, as there had been to Eden Housing's 67-unit Orinda Senior Apartments project on Irwin Way, set to open later this year.

An ALERT news release said: "We are confident that ALERT's work will provoke the city to think twice before allowing another dense housing development without giving critical attention to environmental concerns." It described the Eden project as "overbearing."