The Moraga Town Council has denied a developer’s appeal to build 13 homes on the proposed South Camino Pablo project, saying it didn’t meet the criteria of amending the town’s general plan.

The vote was 4-1, with Vice Mayor Steve Woehleke dissenting.

The 8.5-acre site is just outside the city limits, meaning Contra Costa County could still approve it, which was Woehleke’s point in saying if Moraga annexed the site, it still had a measure of control.

The land is hillside property fronting Camino Pablo, opposite Tharp Drive.

On June 15, the town’s planning commission determined they could not sign off on the project, because the necessary general plan amendment for more houses is a policy decision that should be made by the Town Council. Developer Dobbins Properties filed an appeal July 21.

“If we were to frequently amend the general plan, your policy ends up being whatever three town council members want to do.”

Mayor Mike McCluer

Though outside the city limits, Moraga’s general plan considers the 23.9-acre property to be within its sphere of influence with a zoning designation of 1 dwelling unit per acre (1-DUA), meaning annexation is possible.

A staff report for last Wednesday’s meeting recommended the council go forward to approve and annex the project, amending the general plan and giving the site a higher zoning density of 2-DUA.

“If we were to frequently amend the general plan, your policy ends up being whatever three town council members want to do,” said Mayor Mike McCluer. “It means if I get an application, and I don’t like it, well then let’s amend the general plan, so I don’t think it should be frequently. I do believe it can be modified infrequently.”

YouTube video
A 3D view of the proposed South Camino Pablo project shows how it would fit into the hillside. (Video courtesy of dk Engineering/YouTube)

“When the general plan is amended on that infrequent basis, there needs to be a material and compelling reason to do so that benefits the community,” McCluer said. “That’s what’s stated in the general plan … I see no such material benefit to changing the current density in the general plan.”

Council members said more housing should be focused in the center of town. They also pointed out other problems with the area, such as identified landslide areas and a higher probability of wildfires.

The owners can still try going through the county to get approval, or they try again to be annexed by Moraga and build fewer homes at the property’s southern portion — 6.26 acres identified by Moraga as 1-DUA, for annexation purposes. The town determined the site’s other 17.64 acres should be open space.