LAFAYETTE -- Up against a legal deadline to decide on plans for 72 condominiums near the BART station, city leaders remain divided over whether the project known as Town Center Phase III is ready for approval.

At a special meeting between the city and developers this week, Councilman Carl Anduri, Vice Mayor Mike Anderson and Mayor Carol Federighi accepted the project's environmental review. But they split 2-1 -- with Anderson opposing -- over changing the site's land use to permit residences instead of offices.

And they did not vote to amend the general plan for the area to permit buildings higher than 35 feet. Councilman Don Tatzin was absent and Brandt Andersson has recused himself from voting on the project citing a possible conflict of interest.

The amendment was just one of many issues debated in the three-hour meeting Tuesday night, which followed a Nov. 13 request by the council that developer KB Home shows progress on guidelines set by the city's Design Review Commission.

Lafayette leaders have been discussing residential housing at the site of a parking lot north of Mt. Diablo Boulevard and Dewing Avenue since at least 2003, when developers sought apartments instead of an office building as the third phase of the Town Center project.

Opponents have objected to the project for months, saying the four-story, 55-foot-high building would be too tall, too dense and would obstruct ridgeline views, especially for Dewing Avenue residents.


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Following a presentation by KB Home Northern California Senior Vice President Ray Panek and architect Jeffrey Heller -- in which Heller called a flier depicting the condos blocking a hillside view "fraudulent" -- residents aired their thoughts.

Supporters said the plan is an example of "smart growth" and praised the condos' proximity to mass transit and downtown, saying the housing would appeal to empty-nesters, seniors and young professionals.

Critics offered less favorable opinions and said the project would irrevocably change the city's small-town feel. There also were requests that the building's height be reduced.

Former Mayor Ivor Samson gave one of the most stinging rebukes of the project, arguing Anduri and Federighi -- whose council terms end in December -- shouldn't cast votes. Samson said taking action before the plans are fully vetted would be "morally wrong."

"No city body has reviewed the latest set of plans," he said.

Anderson also discussed the lack of review, and said it would be a mistake to approve the latest architectural plans without a thorough one. He asked developers to consider holding off so the city could consider the new plan.

"With a little more time, we will have a project that will be accepted by the Council and community," he said.

KB Home's Panek argued the building's size had already been reduced, with its fifth floor eliminated, and that further modifications to the height would make the project economically unfeasible. He said developers were looking for an approval or denial.

The Council will meet again Monday to vote on the project's fate.