LAFAYETTE -- Residents and city leaders remain firmly at odds over how to shape the future of downtown while fulfilling state requirements for affordable housing and protecting prized hillsides and ridgelines.
Pointed, sometimes passionate pleas from those who'd like to see Lafayette retain its small-town character dominated a second public hearing on the Downtown Specific Plan this week.
Members of the city's various homeowner councils took turns addressing officials and voicing their concerns over how the plan, if it is approved this fall along with it's environmental impact report and the amended general plan, would negatively impact traffic and schools.
Some repeated their requests that council members limit building heights. Others reiterated that the plan's EIR should not be approved until the city addresses six unavoidable environmental impacts that would result from the downtown specific plan's implementation. They include emissions greater than those assumed in the Bay Area Air Quality Management District's 2010 Clean Air Plan and increased traffic in heavily used downtown intersections and freeway ramps.
Under the California Environmental Quality Act, when significant impacts can't be avoided or lessened and the benefit of a project outweighs it's drawbacks, a city can state in writing why the project is still acceptable. Lafayette's Statement of Overriding Considerations says the Downtown Specific Plan will satisfy
But that document isn't sitting well with members of the Lafayette Homeowners Council, who wrote in a letter that the city's use of the provision has no legal basis and won't help reduce impacts on air quality, traffic and noise. The council will address those issues and others related to the plan's environmental impact report Aug. 13.
Officials did their best Monday night to respond to concerns about "density bonuses" developers may request, and clarified that state law can permit a greater number of units in senior or affordable housing projects than in other developments. And they explained that allowing multifamily housing right by downtown would help fill affordable housing requirements, curbing growth in low density, single-family housing areas or near protected ridgelines.
But when it came to state mandates and other requirements residents say are driving the plan, some council members said there was little they could do to change minds in Sacramento, and told residents to reach out to state and regional representatives.
"Don't think we haven't tried," said councilman Brandt Andersson, after explaining that Lafayette's requirements for affordable housing had just been upped by the Association of Bay Area Governments which helps oversee regional housing needs.
"We need you folks to do it," councilman Don Tatzin said.