The measure would move the urban limit line to add 740 acres – the Balfour Plan Area – to southwest Brentwood, and approve a development agreement that rewrites a portion of the city’s General Plan and zoning ordinances to allow construction of up to 1,300 homes, 35 acres of commercial development, and about 200 acres of parks, open space and public facilities.
The agreement also calls for special fees and taxes on the area’s residents that would provide money for recreation, job creation, public safety, additional road construction and a paramedic for eight hours per day at the closest fire station.
This week, The Press presents the first of a two-part story examining the details of Measure F and the potential impacts of its passage or failure. This week’s story covers the housing element of the plan and the urban limit line aspects; next week we will look at impacts and amenities as well as the possible time line for the various components of the project.
Measure F itself does not permit housing per se. Building proposals would still have to go through city reviews, including for design, the subdivision map and environmental impacts. According to Brentwood Community Development Director Casey McCann, it’s common for developers to agree to some restrictions that could reduce the number of houses during the course of obtaining those clearances. A reduction to 1,000 dwelling units in the Balfour Plan Area “is completely plausible,” he said.
However, the two primary planning documents governing the project are the city’s General Plan and the land’s zoning. With Measure F locking in those two parameters, there would need to be “significant environmental or health and safety reasons” to force a reduction in the number of dwellings according to McCann. Otherwise, the developers would be required to agree to any reductions.
If the project meets the conditions of the additional planning steps, the city would be unable to limit it to fewer than the 1,300 dwelling units specified in Measure F – an average of 1.85 dwelling units per acre for the entire area.
Since Measure F sets aside 200 acres as non-residential, about 540 acres would be potentially available for residential development. Placing 1,300 units on just that portion would equal approximately 2.4 units per acre in the residential neighborhoods. In comparison, the nearby Shadow Lakes development was built at a density of 2.35 units per acre. If environmental concerns reduce the amount of buildable land, the densities could increase, however.
But would the houses on smaller lots sell? “The market for high-density housing is a lot smaller in East County (than other parts of the Bay Area),” McCann said. That could motivate the developers to build fewer, larger houses on large lots to make the project more marketable and achieve higher profit margins.
But while the number of houses that ultimately gets built will be a function of reaching agreement with the developers, the quality and design of those houses is under Brentwood’s control. McCann said that although the high standards established by city officials have been relaxed recently for some developments due to the economic slowdown, the Balfour Plan would have to meet those high standards. “This project does not include any attempt to circumvent any city design guidelines,” he said.
The plan allows up to 200 of the residences to be high-density units, such as apartments, townhomes and condos. Tom Koch, spokesman for the developers, has said there is no desire to build high-density housing, but they would do so if city officials order it to satisfy affordable-housing requirements. The developers have signed a binding memorandum of understanding to that effect.
Urban limit line
The Balfour Plan Area has been part of Brentwood officials’ planning for decades. It was within the original 1990 urban limit line (ULL) prior to the line being redrawn by the County Board of Supervisors in 2000, despite planning and construction that had already occurred in the area.
The line’s move, which also affected Antioch, Pittsburg and other areas of the county, was intended to do two things: slow the rampant growth which, in Brentwood, was progressing at an infrastructure-overwhelming 10 percent per year; and to qualify communities within the county to collect transportation funding provided by Measure J. The county as a whole voted to accept the redrawn line in 2000.
“It was the political atmosphere at the time to save farmland and stop growth,” said Barbara Guise, who was a city councilwoman at the time. “But what it accomplished was a disaster” for Brentwood’s planning.
The line’s move made it impossible to construct adequate access to and from Adams Middle School and Heritage High School, the planning for which was well under way, she said. It also made useless over-sized utilities that had been built – and paid for – by the city to serve the area now excluded.
In 2005, an initiative to bring the area back within the urban limit line – along with hundreds of additional acres north of Balfour Road that are not in the current proposal – was put before the voters, this time in Brentwood only. Similar measures moving the line in Antioch and Pittsburg passed, but Brentwood’s failed by 163 votes out of more than 10,000 cast.
Because the Balfour Plan Area is now subject to the approved countywide urban limit line, the county as a whole or a vote of the Board of Supervisors could move it again. If Measure F passes, the line could be moved again only by Brentwood voters.