MORAGA -- A 36-unit town-house development on Moraga Way has cleared the town's initial design approval process, despite vigorous protest from nearby residents concerned about how the new homes could change their neighborhood.

The Moraga Town Center project this week received the conceptual approval of the town's Design Review Board by a 3-0-1 vote; board member John Glover abstained from voting, and member John Zhu was absent.

The project will next go through the Planning Commission's vetting process.

The proposed development consists of three dozen attached, single-family town houses, duplexes and triplex "cottages," as well as a small park area. It is slated for an undeveloped 3-acre parcel on Moraga Way between St. Andrews Drive and School Street. Some of the homes will face out to Moraga Way, others onto Country Club Drive.

Roughly a dozen Moraga residents registered their objections, on issues ranging from the changes to the streetscape to traffic impacts and housing density.

Longtime Moraga resident and former Design Review Board member Dick Olsen said the town houses would "have a devastating impact on Moraga's semirural environment."

"At no time during my service did any developer ever attempt to inflict anything like this massive development on Moraga," Olsen said.

San Francisco's City Ventures first proposed the project in 2012 as a 52-home development, but gradually reduced it to the current 36 units -- the lowest density permitted by Moraga's zoning regulations for that area.


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Design Review Board member John Glover brought up Moraga's pending "viewshed protection" policy for scenic corridors, which would preserve views of natural landscapes. The policy has not been formalized but could apply to future projects.

"I'm not against developing this property, but how can we do this and at least protect the viewshed to some degree?" Glover asked.

Echoing those concerns, Moraga resident Charlie Coane said he feared the four separate buildings fronting Moraga Way would wind up looking like "one giant building" once they are built, despite the 25-plus feet separating them.

"It's going to be a walled effect no matter how you slice it," Coane said, adding that the project would have "no breathing room."

Others questioned whether the 18 guest parking spaces would be enough to avoid significantly increasing parking on Country Club Drive. The project also features two-car garages for each home, but several residents commented that "nobody parks in their garages."

"I'm just appalled by what's going to happen. This is a lovely community," said Elizabeth Foster, who predicted additional parked cars would blight Country Club Road.

While the Design Review Board agreed the project meets the town's requirements with a few minor modifications, Planning Commissioner Teresa Onoda, who sat in on the meeting, was more skeptical.

Onoda said the eight-foot setbacks on the Country Club Drive side are vastly different from the 58-foot setbacks on existing homes across the street. She also took issue with the parking allowances, and told City Ventures it will have to build a development that current residents "will be proud of."

"I think there's still a lot of work that needs to be done," Onoda said.