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Council Delays Finger Ave. Development Decision in Hopes of Compromise

Both sides agreed to have conversations to work towards a more palatable project.

The city council delayed a decision on a 9-unit single family home development on Finger Avenue to allow the developer and to work toward a more agreeable design.

The council presented the opportunity for the developer Kirk McGowan and the neighbors, who formed the Finger Avenue Pride Committee and the Friends of Cordilleras Creek, to meet over two months before coming back to the city council on September 10. The seven councilmembers advocated for a more collaborative design that both sides would find acceptable. 

 “I’m not looking for a kumbaya meeting, but I would hope both parties find an acceptable solution that works for both,” said Vice Mayor Jeff Gee. “If there is an agreement, stick to it. Be sincere and work together.”

The council hoped that this project would set the tone for a dialogue between future developers and the surrounding neighbors. The current design calls for nine single family homes ranging from 6,000 to 8,214 square feet on the 1.69 acres of land that are 50, 80 and 88 Finger Avenue.

Before the developer’s 10-minute presentation and the public comment period, Councilmember Rosanne Foust asserted that she would not cast a vote on the project, believing that the two sides could find a compromise.

“Couldn’t we all figure out where we can give a little bit?” she asked directly of both sides. “Give it two months and see what comes. We may be in the exact same position, but is two months really going to hurt?”

Councilmembers Jeff Ira and John Seybert were initially skeptical of any true change that a final design would have, but the council ultimately unanimously voted to delay a decision.

The city council originally approved the 9-unit project in 2009, but faced a lawsuit from neighbors stating that the project needed an environmental impact report.

The developer—who had been designing the project in 2004—returned to his consultants to produce a report, which found no significant environmental impacts.

However, the neighbors argued that it would ruin the character of their neighborhood and that nine units was too many. Six to eight, they said, would be much more reasonable.

At the city council meeting, McGowan expressed disappointment in the delay, but said he had been in talks with the neighbors before and would be ready to do it again.

He highlighted that the environmental impact report found no impacts and that his design followed the city’s General Plan—or development blueprint—and ordinances. The Planning Commission also approved his project on June 19, asking that the development be 25 feet from the Cordilleras Creek and the road be open to the public.

Some neighbors had another perspective of McGowan’s dialogues, stating that he seemed reluctant to alter the design in any way.

“I got the feeling that it was ‘This is what we’re going to do. If you don’t like it, take a hike,’” said Finger Avenue resident Dean Collins.

Dan Ponti, the Co-Chair of the Finger Avenue Pride Committee, however, was eager to open up discussions again.

“We’re ready to roll. We have all kinds of ways to reduce costs for him, re-use the buildings and obviously, there are some things we want to get out of it too,” Ponti said. “But if we can have a dialogue, we just need both sides to come to the table.”

The Finger Avenue Pride Committee also pointed out that White Tailed Kites, a California protected bird species on the development property.

However, Akoni Danielson with environmental consultant David J. Powers and Associates stated that a development would not harm the White Tailed Kites species, which is consistent with the State Department of Fish and Game.

Councilmembers also noted that birds may fly within several square acres and do not necessarily nest on those specific residences.

City Attorney Pamela Thompson clarified that city staff could mediate these discussions if both parties designated spokespeople and were willing to commit.

Though neither party is obligated to enter discussions, Thompson said it would be in their best interest before presenting to a council that had been encouraging collaboration.

“Sometimes having a third party to step in might be the first piece to solving this,” said Community Development Director Bill Ekern. He added that both parties would have to succinctly clarify what they want from the project.

“This doesn’t mean carte blanche for redesigning [McGowan’s] design though,” Pierce said to the opposing neighbors.

The city council will reconvene at the September 10 meeting at 7 p.m. in City Hall to either approve or deny the project.

 

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