MORAGA -- A controversial housing development that has wended its way through Moraga's approval processes for years is one step closer to being built, following a Wednesday Town Council vote to uphold the Planning Commission's earlier green light.
The Hetfield Estates project -- a seven-lot, single family subdivision set on 58 acres in an area south of Sanders Drive -- has been the subject of countless hours of civic discussions and the cause of significant unease among some Moraga residents since it was first proposed in 2005.
But most of the controversy has smoothed out over the years, and the scope of Wednesday's hearing -- a continuation of previous council discussions held April 23 -- was largely limited to lingering questions over the construction of an emergency vehicle access easement.
Councilman Dave Trotter voiced concern that the proposal located the easement across a small section of wetlands and near an existing fire trail. That existing trail already runs across the wetlands area.
Trotter argued that to minimize further disruption of the wetlands, the easement should be built on top of the fire trail -- a move that would require widening the fire trail by four to six feet.
"We're just talking about taking advantage of an existing road," Trotter said. "The environmental impacts are actually fewer, not greater, than what is proposed."
Councilman Phillip Arth chimed in that Trotter's suggestion "makes all the sense in the world."
There was no problem with the change from a public safety standpoint, said Moraga Orinda Fire District Fire Marshal Kathy Leonard. She said the existing fire trail is well established and recently graded, and would provide sufficient emergency access.
John Wyro, who represents the Hetfield property owners, told the council he was "amenable to either trail alignment."
Despite some concerns among city planning staff that the change could force further environmental studies, thus further delays, the council agreed those issues can be hashed out during the Precise Development Plan phase, another step still required before construction can begin.
The easement will eventually have to connect to the Sanders Ranch neighborhood, but the Sanders Ranch Homeowners Association has not yet agreed to complete its end of the path. Instead, the Sanders Ranch HOA will have 10 years to reach an agreement on the connection, and the Geologic Hazard and Abatement District or another group designated by the town will hold the funds until that time.
The council ultimately voted 3-1 to move the project forward, with Roger Wykle voting no. Mike Metcalf was absent from the meeting.
Wykle said his vote reflects long-held objections to the project, and not any details of the easement.
The council would ordinarily have left decisions on Hetfield Estates to the planning commission, but Trotter and Metcalf appealed the commission's March 3 approval over concerns about parking and easement details.
The development will consist of seven homes built on roughly three acres of the property. The parcel's remaining 55 acres will be set aside as open space. The project's initial application was first submitted to the town in 2005, and the Planning Commission approved it in 2008.
But the next year, a group of Moraga residents later convinced the Town Council to reverse the adoption of environmental mitigation documents, requiring an Environmental Impact Report instead. The final environmental impact report was eventually certified in 2012.
Past objections by residents had centered around construction noise and traffic, neighborhood lighting and impacts on wildlife. Concerns about landslides and floods also ranked high. Environmental experts have acknowledged landslides are present in the area; an inactive fault line crosses the site, but the bedrock is stable, geotechnical consultant Darwin Myers said in 2012.