LAFAYETTE -- Amid claims of questionable decision-making and emotional pleas from residents to kill the Terraces of Lafayette complex, Lafayette leaders want more information before deciding on an environmental review of this apartment project the city says is the largest ever proposed there.

Council members on Monday heard an appeal from lawyers representing property owner Anna Maria Dettmer and the O'Brien Land Company, who want to build a 315-unit apartment complex on a hillside at the corner of Pleasant Hill and Deer Hill Roads.

The attorneys argue that 13 "significant unavoidable" traffic, aesthetic, biological and other impacts outlined in the Terraces of Lafayette environmental review have been "misjudged" and "mischaracterized." They are asking the council to certify the environmental report but reject the city's conclusions about the project's impacts, which they say don't line up with expert analysis.

The suggestion by lawyer David Bowie to adopt a modified review came almost an hour into a heated public hearing that began with Councilwoman Traci Reilly recusing herself from the proceedings due to a possible conflict, and city staff turning off the microphone as a resident attempted to speak out of turn.


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Attorney Allan Moore then claimed the city was considering the project and its environmental review at the same time it was contemplating "downzoning," or reducing the number of units allowed on the 22-acre parcel. Such activity, he said, is illegal.

The property is currently zoned for administrative and professional offices; multifamily residential is permitted with a land use permit. The owners and developer have applied for such a permit, among others, but those requests have not yet been reviewed or approved by the Planning Commission.

Moore also accused the city of changing language in the draft environmental report before final publication. He cited examples where analysis and expert opinions had been stricken by staff, and said such action was inappropriate. "You're taking the EIR out of the hands of biologists, of experts," he said.

Later, Bowie said a statement last year by outgoing Councilman Carl Anduri about the Terraces and the city's desire to concentrate higher density housing downtown seemed to hint that the council had already decided against the project.

After a public comment period in which residents aired concerns about traffic, air quality, culture and other impacts, Councilman Don Tatzin grilled the attorneys and a consultant about traffic. Councilman Brandt Andersson then addressed some of the geotechnical impacts, including a debate over a ridgeline at the project site.

Andersson later expressed his outrage over suggestions the council was engaging in criminal activity, and said longtime consensus to focus multifamily development downtown did not mean an agreement had been reached to deny the project. Tatzin also addressed concerns about multifamily housing and said the applicant hadn't taken any steps to restrict the Terraces to moderate-income residents or legally make them affordable.

After requesting more information from staff, the applicants and consultants, the council voted to continue the hearing. It is tentatively scheduled for May 29.