“Respectfully, I do hear what the public is saying … and I am trying to convey that we are willing and have worked with the residents that have come forth tonight, but we are ready to do whatever we have to do to move forward. … I don’t want this to continue for another two months, and I will stay here all night to answer your questions if I have to,” said Discovery Builders representative Jackie Seeno.
But after nearly two hours of discussion and a lengthy public testimony period in which 16 residents spoke out against the project, the council voted 4-0 (Councilman Bruce Connelley abstaining) to continue the public hearing to Oct. 13.
Residents who live on Knox Lane and in the surrounding area have protested the proposed housing development since it was first introduced to the council in July. Their overall concern is that the proposed flag lots will clash with the ambiance of their rural neighborhood, but other speakers raised questions about sound walls, draining systems, street maintenance and traffic congestion, and asked the council to continue the public hearing to a later date so that all concerns are addressed and questions answered.
Julie Fierros, a resident of Knox Lane, asked the council not to approve the lots because according to the Oakley Residential Guidelines, developers who plan to build multiple homes must design the homes so that to a casual observer, the new homes and the existing homes appear to be from the same project. The existing homes are one-acre ranchette-style homes, and the proposed development will establish 1.1 to 2.3 dwellings per acre.
Several of the speakers referenced the residential guidelines, which state that new homes should be compatible with existing homes, but Vice Mayor Pat Anderson said guidelines are guidelines – not rules that must be strictly followed.
Councilman Kevin Romick agreed and tried to assure residents that a smooth transition from the existing neighborhood to the new homes would be implemented, but the designing of the homes is a different process from what the council is presently deliberating.
A.J. Mosley, another resident of Knox Lane, asked the council not to approve the project because he and his family enjoy the rural neighborhood that consists of four houses. He said he moved to that location because he believed it was a safe place to raise his family, where his kids can run and play in the front yard without worrying about traffic and other hazards. Mosley asked the council not to allow the developer to change their quiet neighborhood into a collector’s lot.
Discovery Builders representatives have met with residents on Knox Lane several times to try and address concerns, and as a result, 96 conditions are documented for the developer to follow during planning and construction.
While the conditions listed in the staff report answered some of the questions presented by residents who spoke at the meeting regarding noise and landscaping, Interim City Attorney William Galstan advised the council to grant the citizens’ requested continuance so that all the questions could be individually addressed in writing.
The council discussed the appropriate amount of time needed to address the issues. Councilman Jim Frazier suggested two weeks, while Romick said four weeks would give staff enough time to answer all the questions presented.
Mayor Carol Rios asked city staff members what they’d prefer, and Community Development Director Rebecca Willis asked for four weeks in order to thoroughly address all the questions submitted to city staff.
During this delay, city staff will also have time to look into a matter presented by Oakley resident Paul Seger, who told the council that when Discovery Builders removed 162 trees without permit from the construction sight in 2007, the developers disturbed the nesting area of burrowing owls, a bird that is classified as Species of Special Concern by the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG).
Seger told the council that residents on Knox Lane regularly saw the owls, but since the tree removal in 2007, no owls have been sighted, and their observations have been reported to the CDFG along with photos of the owls, which were taken prior to the tree removal.
According to the mitigated negative declaration established to avoid significant environmental impact related to the project, a land survey was conducted to look for the presence of owls in the area. City Manager Bryan Montgomery said in an interview Wednesday that based on two surveys conducted by Ceres Associates in 2006, no evidence was found that suggested owls lived on the property. The report went on to state that due to the disturbance of grassland on the property related to the existing trees and houses, the land was not an ideal place for the owls to nest.
Seeno said her team would look into the situation regarding the burrowing owls and address any valid concerns once they had time to research the matter.
Despite the council’s vote to continue the public hearing to address the new information about the owls and answer questions asked by concerned citizens, the residents of Knox Lane and the surrounding areas don’t believe much was accomplished at the meeting.
“The decision of the city is infuriating,” Seger said on behalf of the residents in a statement issued on Wednesday morning. “It was obvious to everyone in the room shortly after closing the public hearing that the only thing they heard was the potential for a lawsuit concerning Discovery Builders defilement of the burrowing owl habitat and not what the concerns of the citizenry are.”
During the public hearing, council members thanked the residents for presenting their case in a professional and respectful manner and appreciated their input. Montgomery said on Wednesday that the ongoing public hearing to make sure questions and concerns are addressed has been methodical and deliberate and an example of good government practice, despite what some residents suggested during the council meeting.
Since city staff has a month to address issues surrounding the proposed project, staff will accept additional questions regarding the project through Oct. 1. Answers to all questions submitted by the deadline will be presented in the agenda packet for the Oct. 13 meeting.
Questions may be e-mailed to Oakley Senior Planner Ken Strelo at email@example.com.