| Contra Costa County's approval to study a development of 193 homes outside the urban limit line in the Tassajara Valley, east of Danville, has sparked a wave of controversy.
But District 3 Supervisor Mary N. Piepho maintains the study is for clarifying county policy.
"It doesn't change the urban limit line," Piepho said. "It doesn't do anything to (it)."
FT Land LLC of Hillsborough proposed a study on developing 193 homes in 770 acres of land east of Danville and San Ramon - beyond the urban limit. The developer's New Farm project entails building homes in clusters while keeping agricultural land. The study will cost approximately $1 million.
The urban limit line was passed last year to protect anything beyond the border from development and retain open space. Nonetheless, the supervisors voted 4-1 on July 24 in favor of the study for the New Farm project. Supervisor Susan Bonilla of Concord, representing District 4, dissented.
"This is a clear attempt to break the urban limit line by finding a loophole," said Christina Wong, East Bay field representative for Greenbelt Alliance, a Bay Area nonprofit group dedicated to protection of natural areas and farms.
"There is a huge amount of money to be made by breaking the urban limit line," she added. "Developers are finding loopholes to find ways to break the urban limit line."
"To me, it's astonishing," she added.
Wong noted on Tuesday morning the supervisors were considering changing the urban limit line for a proposed development in El Sobrante, but they voted against the plan that day, Aug. 7. She said residents who showed up had affected their decision.
Piepho said she agreed to the Tassajara Valley study because she aims to understand county policy in clear terms.
"From my view, I'm asking a question and buying an answer," she said. "We are looking at it from a policy perspective. We want to define it, and we're doing it at someone else's expense."
Piepho said she needed to know if the study's findings comply with the county's general plan, which involves development. She also said the developer's proposal offers efficient land use for farmers by clustering the homes.
"It's not easy as black and white," she said. "There are little nuances. Frankly, I have to look at it. We aren't interested in development."
"The board needs to look at their overall policies regarding the urban limit exceptions and defining the developing issues around the urban limit line," Bonilla said. "I feel that we need to have a clear policy position of what we are going to do going forward."
She noted that her dissenting vote two weeks ago demonstrated her concern about the developer's project influencing policy. The study, which involves an environmental review, may take 18 months before it goes back to the public, she said.
"We need the public to be aware," Wong said. "We need residents in Danville and San Ramon voting. We need the community to be involved."
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