SAN RAMON -- Developers of the Faria preserve may have to consider scaling back the number of homes they plan there, from 740 to 630 -- and paring down their inventory of affordable homes to 15 percent -- to get the city's blessing to build.
At a special meeting Monday night, City Councilman Harry Sachs requested such a downsizing be explored. It was the second public hearing called by the City Council to review the controversial project.
"We are looking for an overall reduction of units to deal with the impacts" on the environment, traffic and schools, Sachs said.
About 80 residents showed up to the City Council's review of the mix of single-family houses, townhouses, apartments, senior housing and parcels for a church and sports field, which is planned for 450 acres near Interstate 680 north of Crow Canyon Road and east of Bollinger Canyon Road. About 18 residents spoke at the meeting, most against the project. Michael Jones and a couple of others also called the proposed development "illegal," based on the town's most recent general plan, even threatening legal action if it's not properly modified.
After nine public hearings, the Planning Commission unanimously approved the project in May.
That would have been the last in a chain of city approvals needed before developer Lafferty Communities attempts to secure permits from the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, the state Fish and Wildlife Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build. But the council voted 4-1 last month to continue its review, initiated by Sachs, with an eye toward lessening the project's environmental, traffic and school impacts.
The original 786-unit project's land footprint, approved in 2006, has been reduced by 22 percent, spurred by environmental concerns. On Monday night, Sachs said, "I should be seeing a similar decrease in housing units, but I do not see that."
He also said only 15 percent of Faria's 630 housing units, rather than 28 percent of the 740 units currently planned, should be "affordable," because the city's affordable housing needs will be accommodated by other future developments, such as City Center and within the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan.
"We have burdened the Specific Plan with too much affordable housing," Sachs said.
Ultimately, the City Council voted 3-1-1 to ask city staff to work with Lafferty to explore options to reduce the percentage of affordable housing. The dissenting vote was Bill Clarkson, who maintained it's important to provide workplace housing in the city.
"I have seen it be a huge plus in San Ramon," said Clarkson, who doesn't believe affordable housing automatically begets crime. The city's affordable housing in the past 15 years has grown to 2,300 units, and in the last 10 years, "our crime rate has dropped by half," he said.
Hudson abstained from the motion, adding that he believed "the smart growth is to put people near the jobs."
He then tried to propose a motion to end the City Council's review in support of the Planning Commission's approval, but he was unable to find a second council member to second it.
"What we should have been focused on from day one is how best to do the project that was approved by the Planning Commission, period," Hudson said.
Planning Commissioner Donna Kerger said she and others had studied Faria thoroughly for 12 years.
"And I truly believe I was acting in the best interest of the city of San Ramon," she said, as she showed off a box of research to present her years of hard work on it.
Planning Commission Chairman Eric Wallis also said the city needs a variety of affordable workforce housing -- for teachers, firefighters, police officers and others who wish to live the city.
"I urge you to vote for the plan we originally picked," he said.
Contact Joyce Tsai at 925-847-2123. Follow her at Twitter.com/joycetsainews.