CORRECTION (Published 3/6/2013)

A story about the proposed Terraces of Lafayette apartment development failed to mention that a land-use permit is needed for multifamily housing to be built there.

LAFAYETTE -- A much-debated plan to place 315 apartments on a Lafayette hillside has cleared another hurdle despite claims of the city using the development's environmental impacts to shrink the project size.

Planning commissioners on Monday certified the final environmental impact report for the Terraces of Lafayette, the moderate-income apartment complex developers are hoping to build on a 22-acre lot on Deer Valley Road across from Acalanes High School. Commissioners Patricia Curtin-Tinley, Tom Chastain and Jeanne Ateljevich, plus Chairwoman Karen Maggio, approved the certification. Vice chair Rick Humann and commissioner Will Lovitt were absent, and newly appointed planning commissioner J. Allen Sayles abstained from voting.

The move came almost two months after officials opened a public hearing on the project's environmental impacts, detailed in a lengthy report on the city's website. Staffers received about 400 comments from residents and others, and more than 35 people spoke at the January hearing, including an attorney for applicant Anna Maria Dettmer, who owns the grassy hillside.

Dettmer's attorneys have argued the city is trying to use the environmental impact report to "downzone" the property and change its current zoning designation for administrative, professional office and multifamily residential use (the latter also requiring a land use permit), among other complaints. The parcel is currently zoned to allow up to 35 dwelling units per acre. The project's density is 14 dwelling units per acre, according to city data.

The environmental review describes the parcel as one of the most significant undeveloped properties in the city. The city's general plan suggests preserving the rural character of the area and setting development standards.

And while the council has taken no action on a planning commission suggestion to change the zoning to low residential, or one dwelling unit per five acres, city leaders can direct staff to look at zoning and general plan amendments in a highly complex process involving public hearings.

The city has argued the zoning issue is separate from the environmental review. David Bowie, an attorney representing Dettmer, believes the city has intertwined the two issues.And while Bowie says the city made comments in the review that could be used to justify rezoning the property, no action was taken Monday to approve or disapprove the project. "We have a document now that people can refer to to make a decision," he said.

The certification can be appealed for up to 14 days. If no challenges are filed, public hearings on the project's merit can begin as soon as April.