Developers, environmental conservationists and a sect of local residents are set to clash on Tuesday evening, when the Danville Town Council considers the oft-debated Magee Preserve development project located in the Diablo Road/Blackhawk Road corridor.
Proposed by Walnut Creek-based developer Davidon Homes, the project consists of building 69 single-family homes on the south side of Diablo Road and Blackhawk Road, with the main entrance to the housing complex being based adjacent to Jillian Way.
Located on a 410-acre project site, a key provision of the project comes in the form of its environmental conservation. According to Danville’s principal planner David Crompton, the project would develop approximately 29 acres -- or 7% -- of the site, with the remaining 381 acres of open space preserved by the town on a permanent basis.
Magee Preserve will also install a series of hiking and biking trails that will allow residents to experience the area’s scenic beauty and explore land that is currently closed to the public, according to Steve Abbs, vice president at Davidon Homes.
In a town staff report, Crompton wrote that if approved the project would include approximately two miles of trails dedicated to the East Bay Regional Parks District for public use.
While the project does guarantee preservation of 93% of the property’s open space -- current zoning allows the development of 94% of land according to Davidon -- a group of Danville residents are opposed the development of the property due to concerns of disrupting the local wildlife, bicycle safety, traffic concerns and the loss of any open space.
“If the council approves the project as we fully expect, we will seek a referendum public vote,” said Maryann Cella from the group Save Open Space (SOS), which opposed a previous version of the project in court, with some success.
In July 2013, the Town Council approved a nearly identical project proposed by developer SummerHill Homes that was also vehemently opposed by SOS Danville. The group eventually filed a lawsuit challenging the project’s approval, which was upheld by the First District Court of Appeal, which did find that the project did not adequately consider bicycle safety impacts.
The group has previously stated that the development should have triggered Measure S, which limits development on agricultural land and requires voter approval by ballot measure in order to move the development forward -- Contra Costa County Superior Court judge agreed with that argument in concept, but the appellate court overruled that interpretation while upholding the bike safety portion.
To address the court's findings, Crompton said the town selected the "Highway Capacity Manual 2010 Bicycle Level of Service" (BLOS) methodology to test the level of on-road bicyclist comfort level around the project area. Testing found that the effects on bicyclist comfort were “less than significant with a less than one percent change in BLOS score for both weekday and weekend conditions.”
Davidon developers have also proposed a possible plan for expanding a paved bike path that would consist of an eight foot wide off-street paved trail along Diablo Road, which according to Al Kalin of Mount Diablo Cyclist is notoriously dangerous for cyclists due to its narrow windy roads.
“As cyclists we have looked at this and it’s a win-win for everyone not just cyclists and hikers and joggers, but I'd like to add also its a win-win for motorists which is rarely discussed,” Kalin told DanvilleSanRamon.com. “When a bike is on Diablo Road it is not just the cyclists that are in danger.”
“Diablo Road is just not a safe access. So what Magee Preserve does is provides an easement for the town to install (the bike trail). Without this project that easement or that path is not possible. That is a huge public benefit,” Abbs added. “It’s not a requirement of the project, it's a public benefit that we are offering the town.”
Despite concerns from the opposition group, Magee Preserve has received a vocal backing from local environmental group Save Mount Diablo, as well as Bike East Bay, who have praised the project and its developers for their commitment to environmental and recreational benefits.
“This is a superior project in terms of an environmental standpoint and that is one of the reasons that we are here,” said Seth Adams, land conservation director at Save Mount Diablo. “Legally the developer has to mitigate for their own impacts, legally anything beyond that is icing on the cake and this development is going way beyond what’s required.”
Adams explained that the Magee Preserve has been a “missing piece” for his organization, and the land preserved will join a network of open space and trails protected by agencies in Contra Costa County.
He is also excited for the recreational opportunities saying: “You won’t believe me at first, but this property has better views that Mount Diablo to the north and Las Trampas to the west.”
“We're here from open space and recreational standpoint, but most people either look at this in terms of an overall project or not, or they look at it in terms of the effect of traffic,” Adams added.
Traffic concerns are another area of concern for SOS Danville and neighboring residents, who fear a large influx of vehicle trips along already busy roads.
According to Crompton, initial traffic studies “found that project trips added to the Diablo Road/Blackhawk Road/Mt. Diablo Scenic intersection … would constitute a significant impact based on the established thresholds of significance” during peak commuting hours.
To help alleviate these concerns, the project would also include the installation of a traffic signal along the Diablo Road/Blackhawk Road/Mt. Diablo Scenic intersection, which Crompton says will help mitigate the project’s impacts and improve traffic flow.
“We are doing our fair share and will actually make things better on Diablo than what exists today,” Abbs said.
Abbs added that if all goes well with the council, Davidon would be able to begin development next summer.
The public is invited to join in on the conversation at the Danville Town Council’s regular meeting which will be held Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. at the Town Meeting Hall, 201 Front St. Attendance is expected to be high.
After discussing the issue this week, the council is expected to consider confirming its final decision on the project during its regular meeting on July 16.