State lawmaker warns Lafayette about huge apartment project

LAFAYETTE — A state lawmaker is warning Lafayette that it
“likely” violated new housing laws when it downzoned a 315-unit
apartment project that’s been the subject of contentiousness for
years.

In a brief Dec. 11 letter, state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Oakland,
said that Senate Bill 330 and Senate Bill 167 “may impact a
project that is currently before you: the Terraces of Lafayette
project.”

Skinner said the Legislature “is keenly focused on
accelerating the creation of new housing at a time when the state
is facing an extreme crisis in both supply and affordability.”
She said California now ranks 49th in the nation when it comes to
housing units per capita.

As the author of the housing bills, Skinner said that SB 330
“is intended to help California communities quickly build housing
without altering local zoning rules.” She said the bill limits a
local government’s authority to downzone or enact policies that
reduce the number of housing units allowed, retroactive to January
2018.

According to Skinner, SB 167 “increases the burden of proof
that a local agency has to meet to deny a project that meets local
zoning rules.” She also noted that the bill awards damages to
plaintiffs if a local government “is found to be acting in ‘bad
faith,’ and allows courts to levy fines on cities” not in
compliance with the state housing act.

“During the multiyear period this application has been before
the city, the city downzoned the affected property in July 2018,”
Skinner wrote in her letter. “This downzoning is likely to be in
conflict with the provisions of SB 330,” which became law on Jan.
1, 2020.

“The provisions of both SB 167 and SB 330 likely impact not
only the Terraces project but any project consistent with local
zoning rules,” the letter continued.

The Lafayette City Council, which meets at 7 p.m. Monday, will
discuss the letter and respond to Skinner, according to the
agenda.

On Jan. 21, the Lafayette Planning Commission and the
Transportation & Circulation Commission are scheduled to
discuss the project’s potential traffic impacts and
transit-related issues at a joint meeting.

Ever since it was proposed in March 2011, the Terraces plan on
Deer Hill Road by the O’Brien Land Company has been marked by
controversy.

The plan has been the subject of 20 public hearings, a lawsuit,
a state court ruling and a failed referendum in June 2018 called
Measure L that sought voter approval of a compromise plan of 44
houses instead of apartments. The property covers 22 acres off Deer
Hill and Pleasant Valley roads near Highway 24.

On July 23, 2018, the Lafayette City Council approved rezoning
the Deer Hill property from administrative professional space,
which permits multiple-family buildings with up to 15 dwelling
units per acre, to low density single-family residential, which
allows a maximum of two dwelling units per acre.

At that time, the city ordinance justified the change because it
said it was “consistent with the general plan.” It also said
“community needs are best served by the re-zone.”

“The rezoning of the parcel to low density single-family
residential in a timely manner will ensure that it consistent with
the parcel’s general plan land use designation and the voters’
intent in rejecting Measure L,” the ordinance reads.

Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
State lawmaker warns Lafayette about huge apartment project