The Lafayette City Council went deep into Monday night to reword a resolution in a way to gain three votes to go forward with a five-story condominium project in the middle of downtown.
At issue is a 72-unit Town Center III condo project on the vacant lot behind Panda Express on Mount Diablo Boulevard, just below the BART station. After a long public hearing and a late break for a 1-hour-and-25-minute closed session approved to talk about potential litigation — the council at 11:36 p.m. Monday amended some wording and passed a resolution for the project 3-1, with Council member Don Tatzin voting no and Council member Brandt Andersson recusing himself.
Coming out of the closed session, Mayor Carol Federighi said, "This is a project that I think can go forward … I think this is an appropriate use for this site."
Noting the objections of some audience members to the 55-foot height of the project, Federighi said the condo project will appear 18 feet lower than the adjacent, already built Town Center II apartments (built on a graded hill).
Council member Carl Anduri said he was in favor of going ahead with the project.
Earlier, he had objected to the notion expressed by some speakers about insufficient public input. Anduri said, "The public has been involved in this process at least the 16 years I've been on the Planning Commission and council."
He added, "We're near a freeway. We're near a BART station. It's a perfect place for a high-density project." He said the discussion at the time of the adoption of the general plan was that Lafayette would have very low density outside the downtown area in exchange for higher density downtown.
Vice Mayor Mike Anderson voted yes after taking note of amended wording for an extended approval process in which the council could get further input on plans from the Design Review Commission and Planning Committee, before the project came back before the council. "It's the final bit of security that we've got the project all the way down to the fine details," Anderson said.
The process of going before the commissions again could result in the loss of building square footage, the resolution stated, "but not to result in a loss of more than three units or a building less than four stories over podium parking," in wording added Monday night.
Council member Don Tatzin said he appreciated the council's efforts to forge an agreement, but "it's still too far for me to go." Tatzin said he felt more details were needed before he would support the application. He said he would support a motion to require more detail in invoking the process agreement for the project, which now states that the council is to make a decision by Dec. 6.
Twenty-five members of the public spoke; most were against the project and six spoke in favor of it. Some opponents seemed to indicate a smaller project would meet their approval, as somewhat less dense housing in a transportation hub is a good idea. The opponents generally got a round of applause from an audience that was about 75 people at the start of the meeting.
A sampling of comments:
• Ronald Nahus said, "This is a beautiful building. This is the right location for it."
• Ivan Glover, a co-owner of the property, said, "I really do believe it's time something was finalized."
• Byrne Mathisen said high-density housing is a good use at the site, "but this is just a little too much."
• Matt Heavey said, "Basically, they're making a boatload of money here based on my calculations. I believe they could lop off a story (from five stories to four stories) and make everybody happy … It's too big. It's too tall. It's too dense. And we'd like to see the ridgeline."
• Bobbi Freitas, a resident for 48 years and a business owner in Lafayette for more than 40, said the project would alter the attractiveness of downtown for shoppers by pinching parking options and causing "gridlock." "It will have a big negative impact on the neighborhood," she said.