Clayton approves high density apartment project

Clayton approves high density apartment project

Neighbors in the Stranahan development across from an 81-unit apartment building approved for downtown Clayton fear inadequate parking will cause overflow into their quiet subdivision (Tamara Steiner photo).

CORRECTION: In the print edition of this story there are two typos. The project was approved at the Mar. 3 meeting, not Dec. 3. And the underlying zoning for the parcels is MF-High density for 20 units per acre, not 60.

A three-building, three-story senior apartment project planned for three acres on Marsh Creek Rd. was approved by the City Council in a 3-2 vote at the March 3 meeting with Councilmembers Jeff Wan and Jim Diaz voting to reject. Julie Pierce, Tuija Catalano and CW Wolf voted to approve.

Dubbed “The Olivia at Marsh Creek,” the project faced heavy opposition from residents in the Stranahan neighborhood across the street from the project for what they say is inadequate parking for the 81 units.

The project first reached the Planning Commission in December where a 2-2 vote (one seat vacant) effectively denied the application.

In compliance with the county’s Housing Element requirements, in 2012 the parcels were zoned multi-family, high density for 20-units per acre. California State Density Bonus Law, however, overrides local zoning, and allows for 35 percent more units if 10 percent of the units are deed restricted for affordable housing. The law also allows for an in-fill housing exemption to CEQA and grants several waivers to local zoning including parking requirements which would have required at least two spaces per unit.

Originally submitted with just 86 parking spaces for the entire project, developer Bill Jordan responded to neighbor concerns and council criticism by increasing the parking to 106 spaces in the final project, a number which neighbors say is still not enough. The lack of parking will cause overflow into the Stranahan neighborhood across the street and take up valuable parking in the town center.

Opposition to the project has been strong since first submitted in 2017. Heated comments during the public hearings and on social media have frequently been acrimonious and personal in nature with Tuija Catalano and Julie Pierce taking the brunt.

With 28 years on the city council, Pierce has been a major player in planning for many of the city’s big projects including Oakhurst, the Stranahan and Westwood developments and the community parks.

“The town you guys call ‘perfect,’ this has a lot to do with the planning we did a long time ago,” she said, defending her vote to approve.

Catalano, a land use attorney, voted to approve based on the legal findings. A denial without legal grounds would open the city to expensive lawsuits from both the developer and civil rights advocates.

Vice mayor Jeff Wan, who has been an outspoken opponent of high-density housing downtown since running for the council in 2018, voted to reject the project.

Challenged by Catalano to state a legal basis for his vote, Wan cited an outdated traffic study used to determine the project would not have a “significant effect” on traffic, noise, safety, etc. City staff and legal advisers say there has not been enough of a change in traffic patterns since the study was done ten years ago to warrant a new study. He also questioned the definition of “urban vs. rural” in determining the infill exemption. Pierce said that was a fight for another day.

CW Wolfe, known for his town ‘walk-arounds’ said he found most residents he spoke with either support the project or were surprisingly ‘ambivalent.” He voted to approve.

Jim Diaz, noting ire at past city management that allowed the project “to get us here in the first place,” voted no, citing the parking, traffic and safety issues.

Developer Bill Jordan expects construction to begin in about six months.

Related story: Guest Editorial–Catalano explains why Council approved Olivia project

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