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Town Center apartment project appeals head to Clayton City Council

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Town Center apartment project appeals head to Clayton City Council
An architect’s rendering shows of one of the three, 3-story apartment buildings in The Olivia at Marsh Creek, denied by the Clayton Planning Commission on Dec. 10. The City Council will hear appeals from the developer and three residents on Feb. 4.

After two marathon public hearings, the Clayton Planning Commission delivered a 2-2 decision on plans for an 81-unit, high-density senior housing development in downtown Clayton. The split decision effectively denied the project and triggered four appeals to the City Council.

The fifth seat on the planning commission was vacant after William Gall resigned in November.

“The Olivia on Marsh Creek” is facing heavy resistance from residents opposed to the three-story complex, which they say has inadequate parking and is too big for its location near the town center. The project was hotly contested and debated at public hearings Nov. 12 and Dec. 10.

The proposed three-acre development is located on three adjacent parcels just south of the town center. The parcels are zoned multi-family, high density in the city’s General Plan, which would normally be 20 units per acre–60 total.  However, the State Density Bonus Law, which encourages high density affordable housing, allows for 35 percent more (81 units), if at least 10-15 percent are designated Very Low Income. Additionally, under state law, the project is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act.

In the end, a three-part resolution made up of an Affordable Housing Density Bonus Application, a Site Plan Review Permit and a Tree Removal Permit failed to garner the majority support needed to approve the project. Commissioner Bassam Atwal and Chairman Peter Cloven voted to approve the resolution. Vice-chair A.J Chippero and commissioner Frank Gavidia voted to deny.

The commissioners did, however, agree by a 3-1 vote that the project qualifies for a CEQA exemption as infill development. Gavidia voted against the exemption.

The City Council will hear four appeals at its Feb. 4 meeting. Kent Ipsen, whose home is on the hill above the project and two neighbors from the Stranahan development across the street from The Olivia are appealing the CEQA exemption. The project’s developer William Jordan is appealing denial of the plans.

Jordan is confident he will eventually prevail as “it meets city and state laws to a tee. We have delivered a project that meets the objectives.”

Jordan originally brought the project to the city in September 2017.

Most of the more than 80 public comments opposing the project were concerns about lack of parking. The Olivia is a senior housing project for age 55 and over and speakers speculate most of the units will have two cars. They fear the overflow will take up downtown parking, impacting merchants and spilling over into the Stranahan neighborhood across the street.  And they say the increased traffic on Marsh Creek Rd. presents a safety hazard.

Vice chair Chippero voted against approving the project. He maintains he is neither anti-growth nor against the housing the project would provide. However, he says “any growth must be smart.’’

“This property is zoned for growth; something is going to eventually be built there, I just hope it’s a sensible project that respects our little gem of a city,’’ he continued.

Chippero called it “unrealistic’’ to think that the project will not have a major impact on [parking and traffic] downtown. “This isn’t an assisted living facility where the majority of the residents don’t drive,” he explained. “So my vote is more of a protest vote against the state’s ‘one size fit all approach’ [to affordable housing projects].

Peter Cloven reluctantly voted to approve the project. The current zoning, the project’s adherence to the General Plan, and state laws “prohibit me from voting with my heart.’’

“The conditions for denial were very limited. Based on my hours of research, I did not see an avenue to cause a motion to deny based on the conditions provided.”

Although not the result he’d hoped for, developer Jordan was nevertheless optimistic.

“We are going to go forward and move this project in a direction to get it approved,’’ he said in choosing to appeal.

Believing the law is on his side, he said the city could face millions of dollars in fines and lawsuits if it tries to block the project.

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