Kyle Szymanski, The Brentwood Press, August 1, 2019
The Brentwood City Council has unanimously decided that city voters will choose the fate of a proposed urban limit line expansion initiative during a special election in November, rather than holding the vote until 2020.
The proposed measure — spearheaded by a group of local developers, including longtime Brentwood farmer and developer Ron Nunn — would move the mark at which urban development must stop, clearing the way for a proposed 815-acre project of up to 2,400 residential units (at least 80% age-restricted, active adult-specific), with other elements, situated north of Balfour Road, east of Deer Valley Road and west of the Shadow Lakes and Brentwood Hills neighborhoods.
The development group qualified the initiative for the ballot by collecting more than the required 3,500 verified resident signatures in support of the changes.
“This belongs in the hands of the voters, and if the voters want this, it will pass, and if they don’t want it, it will not pass,” said Brentwood Vice Mayor Joel Bryant.
The council’s election-timing decision came after about 90 minutes of impassioned and conflicting public comments for and against holding the special election in November.
Councilmembers expressed their own reasons for pushing ahead with an earlier election this November. Councilmember Claudette Staton said it would save the city money, because the sponsor has indicated it will reimburse the city for the estimated $104,232 to $173,870 in election costs.
Councilmember Karen Rarey pointed out that she has heard and received more emails in support than opposition for a special election. Bryant believes the initiative’s fate needs to be turned over to the public, and Mayor Bob Taylor said that city residents have a history of making smart decisions.
Rarey also expressed concern the controversy is hurting the community.
“We are turning neighbor against neighbor,” she said. “I watch it on social media — people attacking each other, both sides. What do you think it’s going to do in 18 months when people continue to attack each other?”
Passionate critics of the special election stressed that waiting until November 2020 would yield a higher voter turnout and allow the citizenry more time to study lengthy public documents chronicling the measure’s possible impacts.
“What Blackhawk Nunn is proposing is basically to build their own mini city,” said resident Kathy Griffin, who has spearheaded a community action group opposing the proposal. “You need to send this to the general election so we can analyze all its ramifications.”
Fellow project opponent Hayley Currier, a Greenbelt Alliance representative, noted that the 2016 general election drew 79.8% of Brentwood voters, while a recent special election yielded only a 19.5% turnout.
“Placing the election on the general election ballot is the more equitable and democratic choice,” Currier said.
A host of special election proponents, however, argued that thousands of residents have already shown they want to vote on the initiative now, and a special election would speed up promised roadway safety improvements and bring much needed community jobs.
The planned roadway enhancements include extending American Avenue — which currently terminates in front of Adams Middle School — to form an additional intersection with Balfour Road; widening Balfour Road from near its intersection with American Avenue to the southwestern corner of the project site; and making several safety improvements to Deer Valley Road.
Former Brentwood Police Lt. Kevin King affirmed that the improvements need to be made for the community’s safety.
“I will stand here tonight and tell you it’s not if, it’s when we have a critical incident at one of those schools, and they are traffic-bound,” King told the council. “The city has lacked the ability to control the development and enhancement of Balfour Road from American Avenue west, shy of this project. This project gives the city the ability to get that crucial issue at least partially resolved.”
Brentwood resident Al Del Grande added that the residents who signed in support of the initiative deserve the election to be sooner.
“Those people signed the petition to get it on the ballot; they didn’t sign it to wait a year and a half,” he said.
Matt Beinke, a member of the development group, said even if Brentwood voters approve changes, the development project would still need to go through a rigorous public planning process.
Early plans call for the project to feature about 555 gross acres of residential elements, 225 acres of open space and 20 acres of commercial and civic features, among other amenities. That includes around 1,920 age-restricted, active adult homes, roughly 480 unrestricted to market rate units, multiple recreation centers and possibly an outdoor amphitheater, winery, farm-to-table restaurant and bar, and a likely 225 estimated acres of permanent agricultural and open-space lands, including vineyards and olive groves.
“If the vote is a no, then we are done, we’ll go away,” Beinke said. “If we vote yes, then we start the planning process.”
For more information on the project, visit http://www.vineyardsatdeercreek.org.
For more information on Griffin’s community action group opposing the proposal, visit http://www.allianceforabetterbrentwood.org.