By Shrida Pandey, Online News Editor
// What many teens use as a scenic Instagram photo opportunity has been a hub for conflict for nearly a decade. After several meetings and hours of planning, O’Brien Land Company’s “Terraces of Lafayette” Deer Hill project may come to life.
The Lafayette Planning Commission approved the project this Tuesday, June 30, by a vote of five to two, allowing for 315 new Lafayette apartments.
O’Brien Land Company initially submitted the application in 2011, which called for 315 moderate-income apartments on the southwest corner of Deer Hill and Pleasant Hill. In 2013, Lafayette created an alternative to the project, which would have 44 single-family homes, a community park, a playground, a dog park, and a parking lot. The City Council later approved the alternative in 2015.
However, a group of citizens known as Save Lafayette sued the city in 2016 and forced the city to place a referendum regarding the project, later known as Measure L, or repeal Ordinance 641, which downzoned the property from more than 700 units to 44 units. In 2018, the city placed Measure L on the June 5, 2018 ballot, but the measure failed and the approval of the project was reversed.
The same year, the O’Brien Land Company asked the city to end the 2014 suspension and resume the original 2011 project, which prompted several meetings over the course of the last two years.
On Tuesday’s Zoom call, the Lafayette Planning Commission discussed the impacts the Terraces of Lafayette would have on the city with input from community members, researchers, and the police and fire chiefs.
Similar to prior years, the project split the community over different preferences, with some favoring the diversity that new houses would bring to Lafayette over the possible downsides to the apartment complex.
“Lafayette’s restrictive housing market ensures that only people within high tax brackets can live here. Our schools are effectively closed to a broader, more diverse group of people,” Acalanes High School science teacher and Inclusive Lafayette member James Poling said during the meeting.
Poling also noted that the lack of diversity at Acalanes hurts students of color.
“I could make the point that this form of housing restriction institutionally disadvantages people of color by making it harder for them to get into our schools, and I could also mention that the impact that this has on the mental health of our Black and Hispanic students here at Acalanes who experience isolation because they make up less than nine percent of the student population,” Poling said.
Several previous and current students took the same stance on the issue as Poling.
“Lafayette has historically opposed affordable housing projects, essentially pricing out historically marginalized groups. That just should not stand; as long as it continues, we continue to oppose racial and socioeconomic diversity in our community. That lack of diversity is no accident, and it’s past time we begin taking steps to remove the barriers that made it that way,” Acalanes 2020 graduate Anne Thiselton-Dyer said.
The Commission accounted for many residents’ concerns with possible traffic congestion.
“[For 2019 impacts,] the project is adding a small enough delta that it doesn’t reach a significant threshold,” TJKM representative Renee Powell said during the meeting. “[In 2040, without the extra lane, traffic] would be significant in both peak directions. It would be significant under both 2013 and 2017 baselines.”
The Lafayette Planning Commission also found that the project would not have a significant impact on emergency evacuation based on TJKM’s analysis.
With several findings supporting that the Terraces of Lafayette project will not negatively impact the community, O’Brien Land Company lawyer Bryan Wenter argued that there is no reasonable counterargument.
“There is no basis to deny this project. There is no document upon which a finding can be made to deny this project and there is no evidence to give the ability to push the project to a supplement or subsequent [environmental impact report],” Wenter said during the meeting.
Although the commission could not find enough evidence to approve or disapprove the project, the Lafayette Planning Commission ultimately approved the project under the Housing Accountability Act.
Click here to watch the full meeting.
Click here to access the June 30 Planning Commission Staff Report.