The Brentwood Planning Commission has postponed a decision on the controversial Bridle Gate housing development following public testimony that was mostly opposed to the project as currently proposed.

With chairperson Anita Roberts absent, vice chair David Sparling and commissioners Dirk Zeigler, Rod Flohr and Kristopher Brand all agreed at the commission’s Sept. 5 meeting that a traffic impact study from 2017 included with the application was not sufficient to gauge the true reality of adding 272 homes near an area already congested with cars to and from Heritage High and Adams Middle schools. They questioned how emergency vehicles would navigate the congestion.

“As it is now, (the area) is just a race track during school times of day. It’s dangerous through there already,” Flohr said. “If we open up this portal — bring more school traffic through there, it’s just going to make an already bad situation worse … I know the state has taken away a lot of discretion, but where we have discretion, I believe we owe our allegiance to the people who live in this town … they deserve to be heard, they deserve to have a voice.”

Members of the Brentwood Planning Commission listen to public comments concerning the proposed Bridle Gate development during their meeting on Sept. 5, 2023. The commission continued the matter to a future meeting on a 4-0 vote. (City of Brentwood)

After four and a half hours spent on the item, Zeigler finally made the motion to continue the meeting to a yet-to-be-decided future date, calling for the staff to further work with the applicant to explore the possibility of including a gated entrance into the proposed community for emergency responders only. The commissioners agreed 4-0.

Earlier in the meeting, Zeigler had appeared to lean in favor of approving the project, though he also took issue with the traffic impact. He pointed out that the co-applicants, West Coast Home Builders (WCHB) and Discovery Builders — owned by Albert Seeno — had powerful state housing laws, like the California Density Bonus Law, they could use to force the hand of the city.

The density bonus, which he noted the developers did not request with the current application, is a state mandate that would increase project density regardless of local legislation if the applicant agrees to provide affordable and/or senior housing.

“As it is now, (the area) is just a race track during school times of day. … If we open up this portal — bring more school traffic through there, it’s just going to make an already bad situation worse…”

Rod Flohr, Brentwood Planning Commissioner

“If we deny the project — not saying we should approve it or deny it — but if we deny the project, they could come back and press the nuclear button. And then they could come back with a large amount of more homes,” Zeigler said of the developers, who are currently suing the city for rejecting a previous iteration of the project in 2021. “We don’t want that. We’re concerned with the number we have now.”

Sparling and Flohr both responded to say it was still their duty to build the project to the benefit of the residents.

‘There’s a huge problem’

As proposed, the 135-acre project — bounded by Old Sand Creek Road to the north, state Highway 4 to the east, the Brentwood Hills residential development to the south, and the edge of the Brentwood Planning Area and Antioch’s city limits to the west — would build 272 single-family detached residences, including 29 affordable homes. Homes would range in size from 1,808 to 3,222 square feet.

Louis Parsons, representing Bridle Gate project co-applicants West Coast Home Builders and Discovery Builders, told the Planning Commission his clients are “eager and excited to move forward with this project.” (City of Brentwood)

Unlike previous iterations of the project, the developer has agreed to pay impact fees for schools and emergency services. Speaking on behalf of the applicants, Louis Parsons said they were also in agreement with the conditions that were suggested for meeting affordable housing and design heights.

“We’re eager and excited to move forward with this project,” Parsons told the commission at the start of the meeting. “We agree with the staff recommendations, agree with the conditions and really appreciate your consideration.”

The public then weighed in with concerns regarding the existing oil wells on the proposed site, traffic flow design that could pose a potential safety hazard in the event of an evacuation, fragmented and small parks, home designs that were perceived to be unconducive to solar panels — all topics the planning commissioners also discussed before deciding they couldn’t decide yet.

“There’s a huge problem. There are abandoned, capped oil wells all over this site,” said public speaker Ian Cohen, who noted the nearby Shadow Lakes development was built right on top of the oil wells and methane vents that look like streetlights can be found throughout the neighborhood. “No one monitors them — not the (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), not the state, not the city.”

The site of the proposed Bridle Gate housing development is shown in a slide presented during the Sept. 5, 2023, Brentwood Planning Commission meeting. (City of Brentwood)

Resident Michael Scott, who has lived in West Brentwood for 20 years, expressed feeling like he was “sold a bill of goods” when he decided to move into the city. At the time, he said he believed it had a strong Planning Commission that would plan for traffic congestion while championing high-end retail stores, restaurants and golf courses as it prepared for a buildout of 60,000 people over 30 years.

“We’re over 64,000 people now, and it’s been only 20 years. At this rate with the low-density housing going in and the schools not being built and the fire/EMS/law enforcement not here, having to combine (for emergency services) with Contra Costa County, longer response times, and lack of police force, we’re falling apart at the seams,” Scott said, also highlighting a fire station that was never built. “I live up here at the top of St. Regis (Avenue). On rainy days, it takes an hour to go one mile to get my daughter to Heritage High School. It was the same thing when she went to Adams. The Planning Commission did not do a good job there.”

Brentwood resident Danny Dohmann gestures while addressing the Planning Commission during public comments. (City of Brentwood)

Danny Dohmann wanted to know why staff would even recommend the project that has been at the center of controversy for decades with a developer who put forth “lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit.”

Locked in by law

In 2006, the City Council approved modified land-use designation and rezoning for Discovery Builders’ Bridle Gate project, but the Tentative Subdivision Map was never finalized and expired, along with the associated development agreement.

In 2019, WCHB joined Discovery Builders as a co-applicant before requesting a modification in 2020 and resubmitting an October 2021 application, which was denied by the City Council. The October 2021 application, however, had been submitted under Senate Bill 330, which at the time of application locks in city ordinances, including zoning and objective design standards. In other words, the city will be hard-pressed to deny this project if it complies.

The city is currently in litigation with the Bridle Gate developers, who filed a petition in August 2022. Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Charles Treat last month continued the case management conference set for Aug. 2 to Nov. 7.

When the project returns to the Planning Commission, the body will consider adopting resolutions that would certify the revised environmental impact report, adopt the California Environmental Quality Act findings, and approve a Vesting Tentative Subdivision Map and Design Review for the Bridle Gate Project.