The San Ramon City Council adopted a resolution Tuesday to uphold the planning commission's approval of the proposed Faria Preserve residential development.
The Lafferty Communities project calls for a total of 740 units divided into single-family homes, town houses, condominiums, apartments and senior housing. The development would sit on 286.5 acres east of Bollinger Canyon Road and north of Deerwood Drive.
"Mr. Lafferty has a contract in place," vice mayor Phil O'Loane said, referring to an existing city-developer agreement. "He's entitled to build almost 800 homes with a specific plan and that makes a big difference in terms of how I view this project. I'm not a huge fan of this project by any stretch of the imagination, but as a fiduciary of the city I have to consider that as well."
The council voted 4-1 Tuesday night to approve the developer's proposal, with councilman Harry Sachs casting the lone dissenting vote.
"I am going to vote 'no' on this resolution, and I urge my colleagues to join me. I truly believe that we can accomplish less units," Sachs said during the meeting in the council chambers. "I have always felt that this project should have less units, and we can manage replacing units and transferring them within our Housing Element."
Sachs originally called for council review of the project back in May after the San Ramon Planning Commission approved Lafferty's proposal.
Three public hearings were held in July, August and earlier this month about the project before the council made its final decision in council chambers during Tuesday's regular meeting.
On Sept. 9, all five councilmen indicated initial support for the project after adding four conditions, including increasing backyard space on homes in project Neighborhood 2, relocating the small child's playground (or tot lot) in Neighborhood 4 and increasing the former tot lot parcel size, and installing two radar speed display signs along Bollinger Canyon Road.
As the fourth condition, the council accepted an offer from the developers to contribute a total of $1 million to the city's open space fund. The funds would be distributed in two installments, the first $500,000 after completion of the 100th home and the second half after the 300th home.
"(Last month) three councilmen voted to have staff and developers study options for reductions," San Ramon resident Jim Gibbon said Tuesday. "But two weeks ago you voted five to nothing to keep the project as is, and before doing that, you guys went as far as to ask the developer for a million bucks. I was astonished and couldn't believe that in two weeks you guys could disregard a previous vote and not even bring it up."
Although the formal public hearing was closed as of the Sept. 9 meeting, the council opened public comment Tuesday before taking a vote on the project. More than 20 citizen speakers took to the podium to express opposition to the development and the council's support of it.
"First of all, shame on all of you," San Ramon resident Carl Oronsky said to the council. "You were elected to represent the best interests of the constituents, and you have failed miserably. I'm disappointed in all of you, and I'll do whatever I can to make sure none of you get re-elected."
Several citizen concerns addressed Tuesday were also discussed during each of the public hearings, such as environmental impacts, increased traffic throughout the city, over-crowding schools and the project potentially diminishing the overall quality of life for residents.
Former San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson spoke on behalf of residents who directly approached him with their criticisms of the project.
"Over the last three or four months residents have stopped me to ask questions about the project and ask me to speak on their behalf," Wilson said. "In fact, one actually stopped me at the San Francisco airport. I told them they have an open council and they should contact them and email them to get their questions answered but many insisted they were very apprehensive."
There were six topics Wilson said he was asked to address, including a concern about the isolation of the affordable housing in the plan. Wilson suggested that it should be more integrated into the development rather than clustered.
After public comment, Sachs continued to express his belief that the number of units should be reduced, occasionally pounding his fist on the dais to emphasize his words. He implored his fellow councilmen to reconsider their support for the development and instead push for a reduction of units.
"My fellow council members, we can transfer units to the Housing Element, I firmly believe that. To suggest that we can't is to suggest that we have incompetence," Sachs said. "Less units lessens impacts, even if only slightly. It's not going to eliminate the pain, but it will lessen the pain."
"If there was no reality that less units could be accomplished, we would never have seen a previous staff report that had 686 units," he added.
O'Loane and Mayor Bill Clarkson each addressed the audience and expressed the difficulty in coming to a decision about the project, acknowledging that they have heard and understood the citizens' issues.
"It's difficult because we have a very narrow swimming line of discretion in terms of this project," Clarkson said. "I have listened to all of your heartfelt comments, and we're not making the decision to approve this project because we're somehow mean or we're trying to please the developers. Our job to be elected is to apply the rules that you all have voted on."
At the end of the approximately 1.5-hour discussion, the council approved the development proposal as originally approved by the planning commission with the addition of the council's four new conditions.