After three years of an approval, a lawsuit and a rescission, a proposed nine-unit single family housing project is back in front of the city’s planning commission for review. An outside consultant has submitted its draft environmental report of the 1.69 acre Finger Avenue project, which is now open for public comment.
The proposed project would remove all existing structures and build nine two-story homes with two-car garages. The lot would have a private one-way road of 22 feet where a minimum 25 feet is normally required for a two-way street.
The city initially approved the Finger Avenue project back in October 2009, but faced a lawsuit from the Friends of Cordilleras Creek and Finger Avenue Pride Committee for alleged violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The city rescinded the approval and the developer, McGowan Development and Friends, agreed to prepare an environmental impact report analyzing the environmental effects of the project.
Akoni Danielson of David J. Powers & Associates, an environmental consulting agency hired by the city, gave a presentation Tuesday night of factors of the application that would need adjusting to reduce the project’s environmental impact.
“However, there are no unavoidable impacts at the end of the day,” Danielson said.
The project, as it stood, would cause significant impacts to the environment, such as more polluted storm water run-off during and after construction, according to Danielson. To mitigate this effect, the developer, Kirk McGowan, would treat and filter the water on-site before releasing it at pre-project levels into storm drains. City Engineer Paul Lewis added that the homeowners would be responsible for the water run-off after the construction was complete.
Other factors that needed mitigation were archeological resources, air quality, erosion, geology, and light and glare.
Residents were also highly concerned about the trees on the property that would face removal and possibly long-term death.
“The houses are built so close to the trees that 10 years later, their survival may not be likely,” said concerned Finger Avenue resident Dean Collins.
Commissioner Rachel Holt also expressed her long-term concerns about development near the creek.
“I wouldn’t place homes in the 100 year flood hazard area,” she said. “I’d feel more comfortable if it were out of the flood zone.”
Adhering to the city’s mandated 25-foot setback from the creek would also provide a number of protections for the creek’s water quality, said Richard Izmirian of “Friends of Cordilleras Creek.” It could protect the habitat living there and prevent erosion of the creek.
Dan Ponti of the “Finger Avenue Pride Committee” submitted an alternative design that he says would not cut down any trees and meet the 25-foot distance requirement from Cordilleras Creek.
Ponti said that the alternatives the consultant examined were insufficient because of their inadequacy as true alternatives.
“They’re just strawmen to make the actual application look better,” he said.
He said the project applicant had not budged in his insistence on exactly nine units with yards facing the creek.
“The project objectives are inappropriately narrow,” Ponti said. “It might as well demand that the houses be painted green with red roofs.”
Other Finger Avenue residents agreed on the developer’s unwillingness to compromise in his nine-unit design.
“The developer has penciled out the number of homes he must cram on this land to maximize his project,” wrote residents Terry Blanchard and Linda Vetter in a letter to the city. “If he would only replace the six homes that are there now with six new reasonable sized homes with reasonable off Finger Ave. parking, we would predict much, if not all, of the opposition to his plans would go away.”
Insufficient parking on an already narrow street was another of Blanchard’s and Vetter’s concerns. They said the cars spill over from , and the two even suffered a smashed side-view mirror on their car, possibly from another driver trying to squeeze through the narrow street.
Ponti said the consultant never drafted an alternative design with a fewer number of units, so he designed one himself. He believes his design would fit more with the unique character of the Finger Avenue neighborhood. The semi-rural northern half and more urban southside half create a juxtaposition that makes the neighborhood unique, Ponti said.
This proposed project would make both sides of the street match, a “degradation of [the neighborhood’s] character,” he said.
The city’s Historic Resources Advisory Committee will review the project in two weeks and make a recommendation to the planning commission on the project’s cultural resources.
Once the comment period closes, the consultant will head back to the drafting process and present a final environmental impact report to the planning commission for a final decision.