The proposal would have set aside 63 acres for the East Bay Regional Park District, providing an open space link between two existing parks north of the San Pablo Reservoir. That alone was not enough of an incentive to explore the project, although the developer can bring a revised plan back to the board, said Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond.
"It presents some challenges and some opportunities worth studying," he said. "But I think there needs to be a higher level of community support and we're not there yet."
Neighboring residents and environmental groups have a long list of concerns, including increased traffic and whether supervisors are undermining the boundary approved by 64 percent of voters nine months ago.
"This is a blatant attempt to break the urban limit line by trying to find a loophole in the law," said Christina Wong, East Bay field representative for the Greenbelt Alliance. "Approving the study would set a bad precedent for interpretation of the urban limit line. This is death by 1,000 cuts. Over time, the line would become meaningless."
The Golden Oaks project proposal seeks to expand the line just shy of 30 acres to build 75 single-family houses. Such a move of 30 acres or less is allowed under urban limit line rules but requires
Tuesday marked the second time in as many weeks that a developer asked supervisors to consider building houses outside the line. Last month the board -- with Supervisor Susan Bonilla of Concord voting no -- OK'd exploring whether 193 proposed houses on a 770-acre property east of Danville and San Ramon fit a rural housing designation that allows homes outside the urban limit line.
"That gave the impression that the board is open to considering more proposals outside the urban limit line," Barbara Pendergrass, chairwoman of the El Sobrante Municipal Advisory Council, told supervisors. "This (El Sobrante) request is the second of many requests coming your way. In the future, I hope you will respect the county voters' decision on the urban limit line."
Measure J, the 2004 voter-approved transportation sales tax, required the county and Contra Costa cities to create a voter-approved urban limit line. In November, voters passed the companion Measure L, which created the line to protect prime agricultural land and preserve open space. Any urban development on more than 30 acres outside the line would require voter approval.
The El Sobrante project, which is just under that threshold, would be located near existing housing and open space along Castro Ranch Road. Architect Paul Wang said he will continue to meet with El Sobrante residents in an attempt to fix any flaws they see with the Golden Oaks proposal.
"We want to find a solution," Wang told supervisors. "This is a win-win. Here's a case where two-thirds of privately owned land will become a park forever. I'm glad we are opening up the discussion. All we ask is for you to look at it."
The project may not require any grading, Wang said, as the homes would be constructed on hillside piers. The project would also allow for the widening of Castro Ranch Road to the north of the development, he said.
"Eventually, this project can be a model of how to balance public good, the neighborhood's concerns and the owners' interests," Wang said.
More development proposals outside the urban limit line are sure to come, Gioia said, and the Board of Supervisors should develop a policy outlining under what circumstances it's appropriate to move the boundary.
Supervisor Gayle Uilkema of Lafayette added that such line expansion studies should not be buried on the board agenda's consent calendar for routine items -- as Golden Oaks was on Tuesday -- but should be more prominently displayed.
"It needs to be out there and people need to know it's occurring," she said. "This whole subject has truly piqued the interest of the people within this county and we need to proceed carefully and slowly. We need to be overt on what we are doing."
Ryan Huff covers Contra Costa County government. Reach him at 925-977-8471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.