LAFAYETTE -- City leaders here have agreed to consider a plan to place 44 or 45 single-family homes on a Lafayette hillside instead of a 315 moderate-income apartment development known as the Terraces of Lafayette. The decision reached Wednesday by Mayor Don Tatzin, Vice Mayor Brandt Andersson and Councilmen Mike Anderson and Mark Mitchell doesn't mean the proposal by developer O'Brien Land Company to place the homes on 22 acres at the corner of Deer Hill Road and Pleasant Hill Road has been approved by the city. Before the council reached its consensus at the end of a lengthy public hearing Wednesday night, Tatzin reiterated that the alternative project still needs to undergo a rigorous review process before it is approved or denied.

"The decision we make tonight does not commit us to a final project," he said. Once submitted, the project application would go undergo a complete review by various city commissions before returning to the city council for action, city staffers say. An environmental analysis of the Terraces alternative will also be completed as a supplement to a study of the original apartment project.

Councilwoman Traci Reilly was not at Wednesday's meeting, and has recused herself from hearings related to the initial apartment project and the alternative development because of a petition she signed regarding the project before joining the council in 2012.

The decision to move forward with reviewing the alternative project came swiftly following copious public input on the single-family-home development introduced in December by City Manager Steve Falk. The development would cluster the homes on an 8.7-acre site near a sports field and a 75-space parking lot to be built by the developer. Various other public amenities, including a dog park and tot lot, are planned as part of the development.

Before Wednesday's approval, council members reviewed changes they requested to a draft process agreement considered Jan. 13 that outlines project details such as the number of houses proposed, lot size and the screening of homes from various locations in the city. The document also describes the terms of a development agreement, including the $1.81 million purchase of about 13 acres by the city for the public amenities. The developer is expected to use that money to build the amenities.

Officials also heard a cost breakdown for the maintenance of the recreation facilities and landscaping plans to screen the homes from Highway 24. Falk said it would cost about $90,000 annually to maintain park facilities and explained that part of the money could be raised from new property taxes generated by the homes, which could sell for an average price of $1.2 million. The landscape plans call for planting trees and other vegetation to provide "instant" screening of the homes, according to landscape architect David Gates.

Most residents in attendance Wednesday oppose the project alternative as well as the initial apartment project, whose review would have resume had the council rejected looking at the single-family-home development. Developers have threatened to sue the city over the apartment project as it relates to affordable housing and its potential denial.

Residents also again lashed out at the city for not completing the rezoning of the privately-owned 22-acre property -- a move that would have limited development there to 4 to 5 single family homes -- before the Terraces apartment project was submitted in 2011.

City Attorney Mala Subramanian explained that even if the city revisited the zoning, current zoning allowing administrative and professional offices and multifamily housing with a permit -- in place when the project was submitted -- would still be in effect. The project alternative would require a rezoning of the property and general plan amendments but the process would differ from changing the zoning to only permit the handful of homes, Subramanian explained.

The project will return to the council for approval after a review process that could take several months.

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