The Danville Planning Commission signed off on an 150-unit apartment complex proposed for just outside downtown on Diablo Road Tuesday night.
Many commissioners expressed lackluster support for the apartment complex but were steadfast in concluding they were legally obligated, based on state and town development rules, to approve the proposal that drew ire from dozens of residents at a pair of commission meetings in the young year.
"As much as I'd like to vote this down, legally I have to support it," Commissioner Archie Bowles said toward the end of the two-hour discussion Tuesday at the Town Meeting Hall, a few blocks away from the development site.
The project still has other legal hurdles to clear, including a potential appeal to the Danville Town Council and pending litigation with the property owner's immediate neighbor challenging the proposed residential use of the site.
The proposal from property owner Danville Office Partners, LLC calls for three separate apartment buildings at three stories tall on a 3.68-acre site with a multifamily residential land-use designation at 373-383 Diablo Road, adjacent to the Interstate 680 southbound on-ramp just west of the freeway.
As proposed, the apartments would not sit right along Diablo Road, instead being set back behind roadside office buildings. Parking would be a combination of ground-level and basement parking.
The apartment complex returned to the commissioners Tuesday after they reviewed the proposal at a three-hour meeting in mid-January, hearing from more than a dozen residents who criticized the development, raising concerns about issues such as increased traffic, school impact, public safety, parking, emergency access, complex size and tree removal.
The commission put a decision on hold at that time and asked town planning staff to research more details on traffic, tree removal and affordable housing related to the project.
Town officials returned with that follow-up research Tuesday and again recommended approval of the apartment complex.
The five commissioners also heard from the property owner and its consultants in support of the project and listened to about 10 residents speak in opposition, raising concerns about traffic, the size of the complex, impacts for existing residents and the type of people who would live in the 13 affordable apartments at the complex.
When the debate return to the commission for a final decision, many on the dais indicated that though they felt it wasn't a perfect project, it would have their support.
"What we have to do when given the objectives is we have to try to make the best looking building and the best site we can. And unfortunately it's not perfect and wouldn't be my first choice. ... but I have to support it because that's what the law is telling me I have to do," Commissioner Robert Combs said.
"At the end of the day, I think we've come to the best possible choice for this site to meet our regional housing needs," Commissioner Paul Radich added. "And if you're going to put it on any site, this is right off the highway where people can exit and get right off the highway; they're not driving through town."
The Diablo Road property, which currently contains two-story office buildings from the 1970s, was one of two in the town to secure a new multifamily land-use designation through the 2030 General Plan approval in recognition of the regional housing needs allocation shortfall identified in the town's 2007-14 Housing Element, according to town staff.
In the end, the commission voted 5-0 to approve the proposed development. Commissioner Kerri Heusler and alternate David Havlik were absent from the meeting, and Commissioner Andrew Verriere, who works as a lawyer, recused himself for a conflict of interest, saying he had "some attorney-client privileged information about this."
The commission's decision would represent the town's final approval, unless somebody appeals that decision to the Town Council by next Friday (March 10). No appeal had been filed as of this Friday afternoon, according to town spokesman Geoff Gillette.
Another variable affecting the proposed development is a legal dispute between Danville Office Partners, LLC and a neighbor challenging the apartments, centered on a private covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) affecting the project property and two neighboring parcels -- the Heritage Bank and Cabrita Trust properties -- that prohibits residential uses on any of the three parcels.
Danville city attorney Robert Ewing told the commissioners Tuesday that the private legal dispute shouldn't factor into their decision about whether the project should be approved as having met town development standards.
"We do not have the authority to apply those (CC&Rs) to our decision-making process. And we certainly don't want to get mixed up in the middle of their litigation," he said. "So my suggestion to you is that it's not relevant in terms of your decision-making tonight."
Ewing added, "But again, he can't move forward until he either wins that litigation or the other parties agree to modify the CC&Rs."
To view the commission's debate from Tuesday, see the meeting video posted on the town website.