For a second time in four years, neighborhood groups opposed to a proposed nine-home subdivision in Redwood City prevailed legally over what they argued was an inadequate review of the environmental impacts caused by the developer refusing to scale down the project.
The tentative ruling issued Sept. 5 by San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Marie Weiner sets aside the Redwood City Council’s 2012 approval of the project on Finger Avenue — essentially a repeat of what happened in 2009 when the Friends of Cordilleras Creek and the Finger Avenue Pride Committee sued over the environmental impact report
Weiner wrote in the ruling that eight multi-million dollar homes would fit adequately on the project site without encroaching on Cordilleras Creek but that developer Kirk McGowan “steadfastly demands” to instead build nine that “cannot fit.” Similarly, he has refused to make the nine homes smaller.
Weiner found the City Council, which reversed the Planning Commission’s recommendation of an alternative 25-foot creek setback, abused its discretion and violated municipal code in how it measured the space from the top of the bank.
“This has been such a long battle to protect our neighborhood and the creek and we are grateful to the court,” Julie Abraham, of the Finger Avenue Pride Committee, said in a prepared statement.
City officials said they are pleased the court determined the project was adequately analyzed from an environmental standpoint under the California Environmental Quality Act.
“While the city respectfully disagrees with the court’s decision regarding procedural and permitting issues, and may consider objecting to this part of the decision, these appear to be matters that may be easily remedied going forward,” city spokeswoman Sheri Costa-Batis wrote in an email.
The controversial project called for demolishing six existing homes at 50, 80 and 88 Finger Ave. and replacing them with nine houses and a U-shaped private road on the 1.69-acre site. Since first being proposed in 2006, the project had undergone several other changes like reducing off-street parking spaces from seven to five, reducing five of the homes’ sizes by 895 square feet, limiting trees removed from 13 to 10 and establishing storm runoff draining into a new system on Finger Avenue rather than into Cordilleras Creek. Before the City Council approved the environmental impact report in September, the plan underwent another change — moving three parcels away from the street and the top of the creek bank and revising garage setbacks.
But the suit filed in October argued the EIR inadequately looked at aesthetics, stormwater impacts and public comments on the document.
Weiner’s decision is important because Finger Avenue is the first project proposed next to a protected waterway since the city adopted the 25-foot creek setback requirement in 2005, said Richard Izmirian, president of the Friends of Cordilleras Creek.
“Upholding the ordinance has long-term benefit — it will both protect this site and act as precedent ensuring the creek’s future,” Izmirian said in a prepared statement.
After the 2009 lawsuit was filed over the lack of an EIR, the city sent the plan back to the drawing board with direction to specifically look at aesthetics, cultural resources, traffic safety, parking and overall neighborhood compatibility.
This last time around, the council held off on voting until the developer and neighborhood groups tried a last time to work out their differences. They met twice for several hours with little resolution.
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