MORAGA -- After years of back and forth on development and open space protection, town leaders are embarking on a bid to bolster existing rules for preserving Moraga's rolling hillsides and striking ridgelines -- a process that could take a year.
While no modifications to policy have been approved, the time and money invested into the process will reap benefits, said Councilman Roger Wykle.
"I think by doing this now, clarifying these issues, we're paying it forward," he said. "We're saving future Town Council, future town staff, planning commissioners, design review staff lots of time, lots of money and will relieve some of their headaches."
Some of the concerns include ambiguities that have allowed some projects on or near ridgelines.
And town leaders have made it clear they believe there are issues with existing guidelines governing growth and open space. Residents see trouble, too, and point to loopholes they say have allowed development on prominent Moraga ridgelines, among other concerns.
"There are problems here with our current regulations on land use," said Mayor David Trotter at the Wednesday Town Council meeting. "I believe that language does need to be tightened up, to be consistent with other language -- strong language -- in the general plan."
Planning Director Shawna Brekke-Read outlined some of the issues at a public study session last month, including general plan "action programs" that have not been implemented, including regulating development on hillsides with a slope of more than 20 percent. Existing rules prohibit development on slopes with grades of 20 percent or greater and on minor ridgeline crests.
There are also issues with grading at hillside construction sites and with development near existing slopes, Brekke-Read said.
Those are hot-button topics for members of the group Preserve Lamorinda Open Space, who are urging the council to review town policy and get rid of "inconsistencies" and "ambiguities" in the general plan.
The group argues unclear language resulted in the approval of the highly debated Rancho Laguna II subdivision on a prominent ridgeline that, while not protected by the voter-approved Moraga Open Space Ordinance, should have remained free from development.
"It's urgent that the Town Council correct this ambiguity," said resident Suzanne Jones, who spoke for the group.
However, some residents believe the town already has enough rules in place to protect ridgelines and open space.
Developer and land owner Dave Bruzzone wants no law changes that could affect construction of "high value" single-family homes that draw buyers to Moraga. The Bruzzone family has proposed building 126 single-family homes in Bollinger Valley, which his family owns along with land in Indian Valley.
"If you are considering changes that will impair our ability to provide future housing -- that high-end single family housing -- our schools will suffer, our downtown will suffer," Bruzzone warned.
Another resident wondered how the town expects to pay for consultants it would need to hire to undertake any general plan overhauls, among other costs.
Councilman Mike Metcalf's solution is for the town to use developer fees from the Palos Colorados project, a much-debated, approved 123-housing unit development. That fund holds $2.1 million.
Staffers plan to return to the council in a month with a rough workplan as well as guidelines for forming a steering committee of residents who will work with the planning commission and council. The town estimates the overhaul could take at least a year.