A group of 250 Portola Valley residents is demanding that the town Planning Commission adopt a group of Woodside Fire Protection District recommendations for the proposed housing project known as the Stanford Wedge.
Residents of the community of 4,500 have expressed concern about the safety of the Stanford University project that would place 27 single-family homes and 12 rental units on a 6-acre parcel near the intersection of Alpine Road and Westridge Drive.
For example, an analysis from the fire district recommends that the development maintain "defensible space" of 100 feet from each side and from the front and rear of all structures, whereas plans for the development call for only 8 to 12 feet of open space between units.
Under the precautionary "defensible space" scenario, the site could accommodate only six or seven homes versus the number that Stanford envisions, according to the letter.
Other concerns include limited escape routes from the town in the event of a fire or other emergency. The project would dump traffic onto two-lane Alpine Road at a critical juncture and could cause a traffic snarl in a fire emergency, the letter maintains.
"Emergency escape routes are heavily dependent on unobstructed passage along Alpine Road and Westridge Drive," the letter states. It also poses a series of questions about the environmental review process for the project application.
For example, why has the town staff not compelled Stanford to address and resolve in writing the fire district's minimum requirement for structural separation? And why has the town allowed Stanford to ignore the district's requirement for two district-approved independent fire modeling studies and a fire protection plan before beginning its environmental impact assessment?
The letter claims that the Planning Commission is ignoring the fire district's concerns about the proposed siting of the project and its stated requirements for structural separation "months after those concerns and requirements were transmitted in writing to the Town."
That the Planning Commission "sees no reason to address and resolve those critical concerns and requirements before proceeding with an environmental assessment of the project as proposed is similarly disturbing and unacceptable," the letter states.
In response, Town Manager Jeremy Dennis, a former city planner in Palo Alto, told The Almanac that the Planning Commission fully intends to analyze the fire risk that the proposed development presents and will attempt to mitigate any problems.
Portola Valley and Stanford will be doing two fire modeling studies as part of the environmental impact report process, he said.
Stanford will pay for the impact report, but Portola Valley will manage the EIR process, Dennis said.
"There will be two fire modeling studies coming," said Dennis, who emphasized that the Planning Commission's work on the EIR is in its early stages and could take a few months.
"The EIR will take a significant amount of information with potential impacts of the project, including noise, biological, cultural and traffic and will identify potential mitigation if the impacts can be mitigated," he said.
"The Planning Commission will be reviewing these studies for a long time," he added. "That's what the EIR process is all about."