| After more than a year of legal wrangling, the members of the Danville Town Council gave their grudging approval at their Tuesday meeting to a development request that would put a 7,000-square-foot home on a ridgeline above Danville.
"I would have liked to vote against it, but unless we're prepared to spend a lot more time, a lot more energy and resources, we don't have a lot of choice," said Mayor Mike Shimansky after the meeting.
Last November, the Town Council upheld a Planning Commission denial of Skyvilla's development request for a property at 1621 Lawrence Road. Skyvilla then filed a lawsuit and a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge overruled the decision, saying the town did not provide sufficient evidence to support its ruling. This brought the case back to the Town Council this week.
Town Planner David Crompton presented the updated plans and pointed out that while the applicant has not changed the square footage of the proposed single family home, it taken steps to reduce the visibility of the residence. Those changes include the elimination of a garage, which will allow the building to move further from the edge of the hillside, and the lowering of the height of the structure by 18 inches.
Skyvilla representative David Bowie explained they are limited in where they can build.
"This is a highly unique situation," he said.
Bowie said professional planners who have looked at the parcel say the location on the ridgeline is the only suitable spot.
Councilman Newell Arnerich disagreed, saying other surveys of the land have shown that potential sites are available.
Public comment was strongly against allowing the house to be built. Tom Flood and Jim Richards, both of whom live on Lawrence Road, said they believe the council should continue to deny the construction despite the court's ruling.
"Are you five council members going to let one man's opinion trump your five opinions?" Flood asked.
"It doesn't seem right what we'll be doing to the families in Dougherty Valley," Richards added. "I'd want to keep the ridgelines clear."
Danville resident Ralph Hoffmann called on the council to approve the plan, since the court had ruled in the applicant's favor.
"I just have to ask, how much money has been wasted on staff time and effort fighting this?" Hoffmann asked.
He then accused council members of having been unduly influenced in their decision making on the issue and quoted former California Assemblyman Jesse Unruh, saying, "Money is the mother's milk of politics."
Hoffmann's comments sparked an angry response from Councilman Mike Doyle, who responded, "There is not a person in this world who can buy my vote."
The council discussed the efforts made by the applicant to make the residence less noticeable.
"I feel this project has been scrutinized. I feel justified in saying they've done everything they've been asked," said Doyle.
Councilwoman Karen Stepper agreed.
"I appreciate that the applicant went to a much lower profile," she said.
Arnerich said despite the court's ruling, the structure being proposed goes against the intent of the Major Ridgeline Ordinance.
"The message from the Planning Commission was, 'Bring a smaller structure.' That is our purview to do that," he said.
"I can understand how the court can come to that judgment," he also noted. "I don't like it, but I understand it."
Shimansky said that after listening to the discussion, hearing from legal counsel and the judge, he had no choice but to vote in favor of allowing the home. He added that the council will be directing staff to examine the town's ridgeline ordinance with an eye toward tightening up the restrictions.
When Shimansky called for a motion, uncomfortable minutes passed while council members looked at each other, unwilling to make a motion for approval. Finally Councilwoman Candace Andersen moved to approve the Skyvilla appeal, seconded by Doyle, and the request was approved 4-1 with Arnerich voting against it.
Bowie said he was pleased with the vote.
"It means we'll go ahead with this construction," he said.
"I understand the council's feelings," he added, "but this is an application that was made within the town's ordinances. This is going to be a very, very nice home with a lot of open space."
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