Local citizens group SOS-Danville filed a lawsuit July 25 challenging the town of Danville's approval of the SummerHill Homes development. The project, also referred to as Magee Ranch, will place 69 homes on the 410-acre site at the southeast corner of Diablo and McCauley roads.
The suit challenges the town's assertion that the development does not invoke Measure S -- a 2000 measure that limits development on agricultural land and requires voter approval by ballot measure in order to move the development forward -- and states the town failed to "assess and mitigate environmental impacts of the project in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act."
"We tried repeatedly to point out, both during the environmental review process and before the Planning Commission and Town Council, the many problems this project had. This is a sensitive area, and the agricultural land use designation showed it wasn't intended for the kind of housing development SummerHill proposed," SOS attorney Stuart Flashman said in a statement.
Spokeswoman Maryann Cella said SOS-Danville believes that the project -- which clusters most of the homes on flatter portions of the site, avoiding the steeper slopes and ridges and leaving 372 acres as permanent open space -- is clustered development on agricultural land a triggers a Measure S vote. Cella hopes a judge will determine that SummerHill Homes requires a general plan amendment and a vote.
"Our lawsuit is truly cause for every Danville area resident to rise up against the tyranny of the Danville Town Council. The town's denial of the public's right to vote on the development should not go unchallenged," Cella said in a statement.
The lawsuit also challenges the sufficiency of the project's environmental impact report (EIR) and takes issue with several mitigation measures. Among SOS' concerns are mitigation measures to protect the Red Legged Frog, which the group believes are "woefully inadequate and will result in eradication of the frog from the area which is now thriving."
Traffic mitigation, particularly at the congested intersection of Diablo, McCauley and Green Valley roads, is also a focal point of SOS' claims. The suit alleges that the threshold of significance determined by the town and EIR consultants were inappropriate; Cella said residents' input should have been solicited.
"We think that...it's very inappropriate to have town staff and EIR consultants chose (thresholds of significance) on a case by case basis. There should be community input," Cella said. "The threshold that was used would be allowed for a heard of elephants to pass thru and that wouldn't be significant."
Developers hope to ease traffic by re-striping lanes at the intersection of Green Valley and Diablo roads. The intersection has a single left turn lane, two through lanes and one right turn lane which back up approximately 1/3 mile and takes 5 to 8 minutes to pass through. The approved SummerHill plan would extend the second through lane to 270 feet, adding about 210 feet of storage capacity to the westbound movement and reducing drive time by 25 to 27 percent.
The lawsuit also takes issue with the "failure of town to even analyze bicycle safety and how it will be compromised by the addition of 950-plus cars a day on Diablo Road." Cella questioned why officials had "no problem" removing trees from the site but didn't analyst bicyclist safety in the EIR.
As a condition of approval, SummerHill agreed to build an asphalt trail on the eastern portion of the development from Blackhawk Road and Jillian Way, snaking along the creek and out to Diablo Road west of Mount Diablo Scenic. From there, Principal Planner David Crompton said the town of Danville will build the rest of the trail headed west. An easement from Blackhawk Road to Sycamore Valley Park will also be dedicated to the East Bay Regional Parks District.
SOS-Danville said its traffic concerns were reflected during a total closure of Diablo Road on the afternoon of July 24. Thousands residents of the Diablo Road corridor were forced to either stay in their homes, drive east and south on Blackhawk to Camino Tassajara, and then west on Sycamore Road, to reach Danville. For a number of residents, power was also out for many hours, a release stated.
Town Attorney Rob Ewing said the lawsuit doesn't raise any new issues that weren't previously indicated at Planning Commission and Town Council meetings. The town believes the EIR is "adequate and very thorough" and asserts that the project does not invoke Measure S.
Representatives from SummerHill Homes did not return calls for comment.
Cella said there is no timeline for the lawsuit but hopes that it will move forward as soon as possible. SummerHill developers still need to obtain various permits prior to construction and Cella hopes that that process will be stalled.
"If needed, we can file an injunction to stop the project until the determination of the sufficiency of the EIR," Cella said. "We're going to do whatever's necessary to make sure the environment and these laws....and the public's right to vote on this project is honored."