A public meeting of Portola Valley's Architectural & Site Control Commission is set for 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 22, at the corner of Redberry Ridge and Buck Meadow Drive in the Blue Oaks neighborhood.
The on-site meeting and a reconvening later that night at 7:30 p.m. in the Historic Schoolhouse are meant to consider procedural matters around the sale of this property. The town owns the land, and its sale is critical to a complex transaction to help Portola Valley meet a state obligation to provide an avenue for housing affordable to people of moderate income.
The town announced on Aug. 29 its intention to buy a 1.6-acre parcel at 900 Portola Road, the former home of Al's Nursery, contingent upon the sale of the Blue Oaks properties for as close to $3 million as possible -- $3 million being the approximate total outlay for the 900 Portola Road site.(Any shortfall would be made up through fundraising or funds already earmarked for affordable housing, but not general fund or other restricted revenues, town officials have said.)
Following the purchase, the town would engage a developer familiar with building affordable housing projects to come up with a plan to profitably build some number of small homes there. Exactly how many -- eight, 10, 12, 14 -- will be a topic for a "robust community process" that will also include discussions on zoning and design, town officials have said.
The project is controversial. Outside of The Sequoias retirement community and housing on the campus of the Woodside Priory School, there is no multi-family housing in Portola Valley.
About 21 households on Wyndham Drive, a community of single-family homes along a circular road behind the old nursery, have formed the group "Keep PV Rural" to fight the project.
In letters to the council and in the community online forum, the group claims to not be opposed to affordable housing but to be concerned about the as-yet undetermined number of homes at this site.
The process has not been "democratic and open," and the obligation to the state could be met with a "creative approach that emphasizes second units," they say.
Interim Planning Manager Steve Padovan told the Almanac in September that, based on the town's conversations with the state, "we think it would be difficult to get our housing element (chapter of the general plan) certified if we relied solely on second units."
State law specifies sanctions, including forced high-density zoning, that are available to a judge if an affordable housing advocate sues and wins over a town's failure to meet its housing-element obligations.
Mark Moulton, executive director of the nonprofit South San Francisco-based Housing Leadership Council, told the Almanac that he is now in an ongoing conversation with Keep PV Rural, a conversation initiated by the resident group. Mr. Moulton's comment on the residents' opposition to the project: "They're opposed to it now," he said.
The nonprofit, he said, is watching the project "closely," but it would be wrong to assume that "we're sitting here quivering" in anticipation of suing if it falls through.
His group's goal is to help opponents of affordable housing "understand and become educated and change their minds," he said. "I try to meet with people and try to explain affordable housing to them. ... Sometimes people agree (with me) and sometimes they don't."
Keep PV Rural claims that the town has details that are not being discussed in public. "With an approximate $3 million purchase price, the public has a right to demand the details of the project now," the group said in a recent post to PV Forum.
"To let an outside developer dictate the density after the town buys the property is unacceptable and risky to the taxpayers. The project may also set future zoning precedents. The community should be concerned."
After an Oct. 3 Planning Commission discussion limited to Blue Oaks procedural matters, the group wrote to say that this discussion "clearly showed (that) the town now has a plan it intends to implement and it is imperative that the community, and those residents most impacted by the proposed plans, be informed and have an opportunity to weigh in early in the process, before any final decisions have been made."
Asked via email to elaborate on the "clearly shown" plan, group spokesman Bud Eisberg replied: "The reference to 'a plan it intends to implement' simply refers to the whole process of selling Blue Oaks lots and purchasing 900 Portola Rd. We have no evidence of a preliminary plan for the nursery property but are curious as to how they come up with the 10-12 unit number."
Asked to comment on the charge that the town is hiding details, Town Manager Nick Pegueros replied: "(T)he Town has no site plans, designs or development proposals for affordable housing at 900 Portola Road. The Town's plan is simply to sell the Blue Oaks lots owned by the Town and purchase 900 Portola Road. Then, the Town will enter into a process in which the community will have opportunity to participate in discussions about zoning, general plan and design related to an affordable housing project at 900 Portola Road."
For the project to go forward, the Planning Commission must act on an amendment, proposed by the town, to the Planned Unit Development (PUD) agreement that established the Blue Oaks neighborhood. In planning the subdivision, the property in question was reserved for eight below-market-rate (BMR) homes, but the property's topography proved resistant to a profitable project.
The site at 900 Portola Road is seen as more amenable to small-home development.
The ASCC on Oct. 22 will consider a proposal from the town, as an ordinary, property-owning applicant, to consolidate the lot lines at the Blue Oaks property from the original four BMR lots to two market-rate lots. Two lots are likely to bring the highest purchase price, realtors have reportedly told the town.
The Blue Oaks homeowners association prefers one lot, Mr. Pegueros said.
The Planning Commission will use the ASCC's comments in considering whether to approve the town's application for an amendment to the Blue Oaks PUD, probably at its Nov. 7 meeting.