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Developer Unveils New Plan For Housing Development In Western Lafayette

Lennar Homes development plans now call for 70 condominiums and a restaurant

Lafayette planning commissioners and design review commissioners discuss Lennar Homes' latest proposal
Lafayette planning commissioners and design review commissioners discuss Lennar Homes' latest proposal

The Lafayette Planning Commission and Design Review Commission got its first look Monday night at a revised proposal for a housing development at the northwest corner of Mt. Diablo Boulevard and Dolores Drive.

The proposal by Lennar Homes would place 70 condominiums and a 4,500-square-foot restaurant on the 2.2-acre site.

The revised proposal received general praise from city planners as well as commissioners, although they still had concerns and suggestions.

“We are pleased with the direction of this project,” said City Planning and Building Director Niroop Srivatsa.

Commissioners said they were happy with the revisions, but they also said the number of units might have to be reduced.

Design Review Commissioner Bob Cleaver said he felt the design was “too urban” for the west end of town.

“It needs to be a little softer,” he said.

The developer will now revise its plans furthur and bring them back to the commissions.

Lennar’s original proposal was the subject of a study session in September with the City Council, Planning Commission and Design Review Commission.

It called for 47 townhouses in four clusters on the 2.2-acre property. Eight of the units would have needed an exemption from the city’s 35-foot height limit.

The project was criticized by commissioners and residents as being too dense as well as creating traffic and parking problems.

On Monday night, Lennar Homes brought back the revised proposal that was described by city planners as a “complete redesign.”

The new proposal increases the number of units to 70, but they are stacked flats in three 3-story buildings over a basement garage. The units would be one, two and three-bedroom residences. None of the structures would be higher than 35 feet.

The proposed development would have a 4,500-square-foot restaurant at the corner of Mt. Diablo and Dolores where Celia’s Mexican restaurant now sits. The developers called it a potential “gateway” to the western end of Lafayette.

Chuck Tang of Studio T-SQ, which is working with Lennar Homes on the project, said the developers incorporated the feedback from the September meeting into the new design.

“We took those comments to heart,” he said. “The constructive criticism you gave us has made the project better.”

Lennar representatives said they have invested more money into the project, especially with a new podium design.

They added they are open to more revisions.

“There’s still a lot of work in front of us,” said one representative.

Five people spoke during the public comments.

Three of them were still critical of the project.

Ty Allison said the development would be “disastrous to small town Lafayette.”

He called it an “overblown development” that would make traffic even worse on Mt. Diablo Boulevard.

“To me, this is completely astonishing,” said Allison. “The sentiment in town is against these types of development.”

Guy Atwood questioned why the number of units had been increased by 50 percent since the September meeting. He also was concerned about how cars would get in and out of the development.

Kelly Stough of Diamond K Supply said she wanted it noted that their business has been across the street from the site for the past 75 years. She said the store wants to be sure they aren’t asked to change their operations should a residential project be built on the property.

Emily Blanck told commissioners her family moved from Lafayette to Moraga 22 years. She said she and her husband would like to move back to Lafayette now that they are empty nesters and they are looking for a condominium.

“I encourage you to consider this or some other condominium facility downtown,” she said.
Carol van de Poel December 17, 2013 at 12:02 PM
I think this project is a great idea..as long as it is not too big..that strech of mt. diablo blvd is like a no man's land..This would certainly bring some life to that area...it would also make the town more contiguous with the reservoir area...I hope a few more restaurants/cafes open up along that stretch as well over time in a planned and controlled fashion...I was soooo disappointed when Fuz restaurant ended up as a paint store..ugh..who approved that one! just awful!
c5 December 17, 2013 at 12:29 PM
Condos good...rental units bad. I think building more condos in town, especially in an underdeveloped area such as this, is an ok idea as long as well thought out and executed. At least condos pay their share of property taxes to the town.
gavilan December 17, 2013 at 12:44 PM
I don't know Ty Allison, but when he said "The sentiment in town is against these types of development.” he doesn't speak for me or anyone I know in town. Well-planned developments like this along the main corridor and walking distance to BART are exactly the type of development Lafayette should be approving. This isn't 1950.
Jason Schmidt December 18, 2013 at 10:57 AM
It seems every developer gets an "empty nester" to testify that they want a project. It's always the same quote: "we'd like to downsize to a smaller place convenient to shopping and walkable to BART." Well, I'm sure such people do exist, but there aren't very many of them -- most of the older people we know would be shocked at the new property taxes they'd pay after "downsizing" out of the house they raised their family in, and suddenly wouldn't have any space for the kids to visit, wouldn't have a driveway any more, walking to Safeway for the week's groceries isn't easy, on and on. So I think the idea that these condos are going to be bought by empty nesters is just a facade to convince townsfolk to approve developments ("what perfect tenants! They're quiet, don't need much in city services, won't raise crime, and by moving out of their houses bring in new families who will pay much higher property taxes.") I wish the developers would just be honest, these condos are going to be sold to families eager to get their kids into the Lafayette school system. That's what will be happening, and there will be no net gain in tax revenue, as the new residents will likely use city services and schools to a great extent. All this is fine, of course, but at least let people in the city know what they are getting into, and not try to blindside them that this will be a nice project for little old ladies.
gavilan December 18, 2013 at 07:49 PM
@Jason: Perhaps you're right. But perhaps you're not. That's why there are folks who gather and provide such data, so we don't have rely on your opinion or my one example, which is that my sister and her husband, now empty-nesters, are moving back here from Orange County, looking precisely for these attributes: down-size, close-in, walk to restaurants, shopping, BART. These are their top "wants."
Chris Engl December 18, 2013 at 08:07 PM
@gavilan: if the situation in Lafayette, is anything like the situation in Orinda (they're neighors after all), then perhaps Ty Allison is correct. Orinda Watch's recent informal citizen survey shows that residents actually do not want such medium- or higher-density development. It's worth reading not only the article in the link but the accompanying comments by citizens that went along with it: http://mad.ly/c88254
Chris Engl December 18, 2013 at 08:09 PM
This is the view from Orinda Park... 'semi-rural'? Not so much... http://instagram.com/p/iAFXh2Nc4X/
gavilan December 18, 2013 at 11:02 PM
@Chris: If a group has a very narrow idea of what they want their community to be, then I would not be too interested in their survey results, informal or otherwise. I have a broader view. I believe the vast majority of Orinda and Lafayette (born and raised in Orinda; Lafayette last 17 years) can remain semi-rural while the downtowns can benefit from a vibrant urban-ish vibe that would come with higher-density housing, work-live, etc, all close-in, especially to BART. The folks I spend time with seem to get this.
Jason Schmidt December 18, 2013 at 11:36 PM
Gavilan: I think your description works well in many, many places -- in fact, most of the Bay Area fits your description. Yet must every single town have an "urban" center? Can't anywhere be different? And why would you negatively judge people who wish to live diffently than you? A lot of people moved to Orinda to get away from high density living. Nothing wrong with it, understand -- in fact, most of them probably lived like that when they were younger and not-yet-parents -- but now they like a small, semi-rural town, where you can say hi to your friends and neighbors at the hardware store. And though you might believe these people are in the minority, I'd love to see an actual, binding vote of their preferences. I'm sure the vast majority of Orinda residents don't mind change, yet don't want to become urbanized. (P.S. Greatly oversimplifying a diverse group with ideas contrary to yours, like saying people "have a very narrow view of what they want", is a logical fallacy known as a "straw man argument.") The "urban, walkable" places you describe sound like they are set up solely for the people who live in the high-density housing, and the other 15,000 people who live in the town really wouldn't be welcome there, unless they are willing to park their cars blocks away and try to run errands on foot, or perhaps take advantage one evening of the "urban-ish vibe." Hey, they can go to Home Depot for hardware, right? No reason to have a shop in town when you might have a gallery in that space instead? Many people like their small, rural towns with shops and services set up for the people who live in the town itself. Not every single city in the Bay Area has to have a mini-Manhattan within it. And for those people who want to live that way -- well, there's scores of neighborhoods already in existence in the Bay Area that are exactly what you are looking for. And now, Lafayette and Walnut Creek appear to have chosen this for their downtowns as well, though, and more power to them -- though they are more like LafayCreek now, Lafayette's not really part of the Lamorinda mindset anymore. And I'm glad you spend time with pro-high density-living people -- although it is quite ironic that you feel you and your friends are the broad-minded ones, and anyone who disagrees with you is narrow minded. Project much?
gavilan December 19, 2013 at 02:25 PM
Jason: I don't disagree with many of your points. It's only when you set up false choices that you lose me, the biggest one of which, for me, is the choice between "semi-rural" and "mini-Manhattan." I think you can preserve the former and have more density around the core and not become whatever the latter might be in your definition. This what I mean by a broader view. I did not call anyone narrow-minded, but tried to frame the view of wanting to keep Orinda as solely semi-rural as a narrower view of this issue than the view that we might preserve most of that feel while at the same time creating a more diverse core. It's a view that both might be possible, if done thoughtfully.

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