MORAGA — Town Council members want to see whether a developer can make a hillside tract invisible from nearby streets and trails before deciding whether to move the project forward.

This week's decision for further review of the Rancho Laguna II plan kept residents waiting a little longer after years of opposition.

Rancho Laguna would put 21 houses on the southern part of the ridge east of Rheem Boulevard and six more along the street.

In August, 30 residents appealed the Planning Commission's approval of the project. And, just as it did when the council first considered the appeal in October, the project's visibility dominated Wednesday's debate.

Rancho Laguna project manager Mark Armstrong told the council that a revised plan eliminated nearly all views of the houses on the ridge from nearby Rheem Boulevard and the Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail.

But, asked Vice Mayor Karen Mendonca, could the developer makes the houses invisible to people looking up from the trail and streets designated as scenic corridors?

That suggestion drew support from Councilman Howard Harpham, who had earlier said he was ready to deny the appeal and approve the project.

Councilman Dave Trotter, however, said he would not support any project that put houses on the ridgeline and said he worried that Rancho Laguna could open the door for more hillside development.


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"How the Town Council decides this appeal tonight will set an important precedent," he said.

Mayor Ken Chew and Councilman Mike Metcalf recused themselves from the discussion because they live within 500 feet of the project.

As they did in October, the residents argued that the project violated town general plan ridgeline safeguards.

They said their own analysis of a view from the trail showed that the developer was understating the project's visual impact.

Armstrong said they were wrong and said although the general plan protects hillsides from development, it does not prohibit it. Resident Renata Sos said Thursday she was disappointed the council had not listened to the strong public opposition.

"The evidence against this project is overwhelming and in many ways uncontroverted," she said, "and yet here we are after eight years with the council ultimately deciding to continue the appeal."

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