The 50 or so people who attended the Lafayette Planning Commission meeting Monday night didn't choose up sides and pick jerseys, but there was no mistaking the adversarial positions staked out for the first hearing on the Terraces of Lafayette.
Controversy was almost certain to attach itself to the proposed development, which would plunk 14 apartment buildings with 315 residential units and 567 parking spaces on a 22-acre hillside parcel near Pleasant Hill and Deer Hill roads. Lafayette is known for many things -- charming downtown, quaint boutiques, nice restaurants -- but it's not a hotbed for apartment complexes.
That this project aims to provide moderate-income housing only further distances it from the community. Moderate-income housing goes with Lafayette like horseradish goes with cherries jubilee.
So the battle lines for the skirmish were predictable. It was those who stand to profit from new construction -- property owner, developer and consultants -- against residents who want to awaken to a yawning view of nature.
This was the first public airing of a draft environmental report assessing the Terraces' impact on the surrounding area, and it seemed to please no one. The discussion kept coming back to aesthetics -- hillside views obstructed by three-story buildings -- and increased traffic spills onto Pleasant Hill Road, which already is a parking lot during morning commutes.
It was amusing how differently the
"I don't see how you can not consider the visual impacts on that ridgeline," one longtime resident told the commissioners. "I can see that area for miles."
A design architect countered that the site once had been a quarry, and "neither the original ridgeline nor hillside survived. The aesthetics evaluation is necessarily a subjective thing."
"I think it's indisputable that the traffic will back up at the collector and all the arterial roads," a resident said. "There's no way this project can not completely devastate circulation at the east end of Lafayette."
The developer's traffic engineer: "This project does not have any impact that cannot be mitigated. Our proposal adds a third continuous lane along the frontage of the project that will have enormous benefits for the traffic conditions."
So the Terraces will be either the best or worst idea ever hatched. Seven supporters envisioned it as a wonderful addition; nine detractors saw it as they might a swarm of invading insects.
The most interesting comment came from attorney David Bowie, downplaying the effect of dozens of additional vehicles pouring onto Pleasant Hill Road. He blamed daily southbound backups on the city's gateway constraint policy and intentionally ill-timed traffic signals. He said the goal is "to create obstructions in traffic" to encourage the use of other forms of transportation.
"The signals are not optimized," he said. "They're working against the flow of the traffic. So, in effect, there's an artificial situation that impacts everyone who travels through that intersection, and I suspect not many are aware of the policy."
Well, they are now. And a juicy nugget like this is enough to spike viewer ratings for the next episode of this soap opera.
"This is only the first hearing on this project," commission Chairwoman Jeanne Ateljevich reminded the audience. "We will have many, many more."
When you attend, be sure to pick a side and grab a jersey.
Contact Tom Barnidge at email@example.com.