DANVILLE -- A group of residents are gathering signatures for a petition they hope will short-circuit plans to build 70 homes on ranchland off Diablo Road.
SummerHill Homes has designs to build the homes on Magee Ranch property, but neighbors object and say it would lead to more traffic, loss of wildlife habitat and crowding in schools.
The neighbors formed a group called Save Open Space Danville, which has collected more than 1,000 signatures on a petition they hope will force a public vote on such projects, said Maryanne Cella, one of the group's leaders.
"If they gather enough signatures, the elections code says the Town Council can either adopt (the initiative) or put it on the ballot," town attorney Rob Ewing said.
If Save Open Space Danville can collect 4,000 valid signatures, it will force a special election on the initiative, which seeks to make any decisions that affect Danville's remaining agricultural, park and recreation, and open space land subject to the voters.
If the group gathers 2,700 valid signatures, residents would vote on the initiative during a general election.
On Tuesday, the Town Council directed Ewing to have the law firm Shute Mihaly & Weinberger prepare a report on the potential impacts if the group can get the signatures.
Group members began collecting signatures in October going door to door and staking out the farmers market and supermarkets. They have six months to get the required number, but Cella said they are trying to hit the mark as soon as possible before a decision is made on the SummerHill project.
"Believe me, it's not difficult to get signatures," Cella said. "People feel that enough is enough around here."
In 2000, Danville voters passed Measure S, the Danville Open Space Preservation Initiative, which specifies the public must vote on projects that require an amendment to the general plan that change land use designations.
Cella said the new initiative is a response to the failure of Measure S to force a public vote on the SummerHill project and on a housing development on Elworthy Ranch.
In September, KB Homes began constructing about 100 houses and apartment units in southern Danville on a portion of Elworthy Ranch that was formerly agricultural land.
Members of Save Open Space Danville contend that the Elworthy Ranch project should have triggered a public vote under Measure S because the land was changed from an agricultural use to a residential one.
But town officials disagree, stating that the Elworthy project was a zoning change and did not require an amendment to the general plan, and thus no public vote.
Under agricultural designations, landowners are allowed to build houses and buildings on their property by acreage, such as one house per 5 or 20 acres. To allow for the Elworthy development, the town rezoned the site to allow homes to be clustered in one area, rather than spread out on agricultural parcels.
No decision has been made on the SummerHill project while an environmental impact report is being prepared. The draft report is expected to be completed the first week of December. A public review period will follow before the council either approves or denies the project.
Cella said Save Open Space Danville members will be at a Danville planning commission meeting on Tuesday to object to a draft of the town's new general plan, which they claim has been changed to smooth the way for the SummerHill project.
Contact Jason Sweeney at 925-847-2123. Follow him at Twitter.com/Jason_Sweeney.