SAN RAMON -- After years of fighting, to finally getting the green light from the city's planning commission to build the Faria Preserve Project, developers of the 740-unit housing plan must brace for another round of public hearings and scrutiny by the City Council.

The council voted 4-1 Tuesday night to continue its public hearing on Faria to review the proposed project's traffic, creek and environmental impacts. No date has been set for the next discussion.

The mix of single-family houses, townhouses, apartments, senior housing and parcels for a church and sports field is planned for 450 acres near Interstate 680 north of Crow Canyon Road and east of Bollinger Canyon Road.

The golden hills seen above the Deerwood Ridge development on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2006, could soon be covered with 786 homes on 290 acres as part of the
The golden hills seen above the Deerwood Ridge development on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2006, could soon be covered with 786 homes on 290 acres as part of the proposed Faria Preserve development on county land bordering San Ramon, Calif. (Bob Pepping/Contra Costa Times)

Council member Harry Sachs called the project "too ambitious" in trying to offer homes and community amenities "at the expense of biological resources, traffic and school impacts."

The four-hour-plus meeting drew more than 100 people, mostly project opponents. Many of them contended the city doesn't need to support the developer's plan to build 740 homes simply because it had previous entitlements to do so with the original 786-unit Faria plan in 2006. That old plan, halted by lawsuits in 2008 by the East Bay Regional Park District and Sierra Club, was a "failed" plan, they argued.

Among those opponents was Jim Blickenstaff, chairman of the Mount Diablo Sierra Club executive committee, who said the planning commission should have asked for fewer homes.

"The old plan should not be used as an excuse or leverage, for supporting this 'new plan,'" he said. "This plan must fall or stand on its own merits."

The planning commission's approval in May would have been the last stop in a chain of city approvals needed before developer Lafferty Communities seeks permits from the state's Regional Water Quality Control Board, the state's Fish and Wildlife Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build.

Sachs said the council has had only one joint meeting with the planning commission on the current plan, and that more discussion is needed. He called on Lafferty to avoid affecting the central riparian corridor and disrupting the area's creeks by not building homes in that portion of the project site.

But Pat Toohey of Lafferty Communities argued that his company should not have to cut the number of homes at Faria. He said Lafferty has already given up 46 homes from its 2008 plan and 28 for-sale homes in the new plan to offer as affordable housing.

"We think we've given enough," Toohey said.

But council member Phil O'Loane said disruption of the creek should be avoided entirely, considering the current drain on water resources.

"I would trade the creek for market-rate single-family homes," he said. "And I think the creek can be avoided entirely."

Also Sachs' recent discussions with the California Regional Quality Water Control Board indicated that the project's mitigation plan is "still insufficient."

Council member Scott Perkins also said he wanted to preserve the creek and agreed with Sachs that some of project's traffic studies appeared lacking. Mayor Bill Clarkson had mixed feelings about Faria, but wants to make sure project improvements follow the law. Councilman Dave Hudson cast the lone vote against continuing the Faria review, and questioned whether Sachs' proposal to make one of the neighborhoods senior housing -- to reduce traffic and school enrollment in the area -- would work.

Contact Joyce Tsai at 925-847-2123. Follow her at Twitter.com/joycetsainews.