June 20, 2024
Already plagued with traffic concerns, Brentwood residents reject housing plan, want better solutions to traffic issues.

It all came down to traffic.

After almost five hours of discussion on a longtime plan to erect nearly 300 homes in northwest Brentwood, the city Planning Commission punted the proposal back to staff to consider possible solutions to avoid a potential traffic mess.

At issue was a second exit from the proposed Albert Seeno III Bridle Gate development in northwestern Brentwood that would have routed vehicles into and out of the upscale Brentwood Hills and Shadow Lakes neighborhoods, areas that are already congested with parents driving their children to and from nearby schools.

“We need to make sure that we approve plans that are beneficial to the people that are already here,” Commissioner Rod Flohr said on Tuesday. “The hazards for the Shadow Lakes Community and the Brentwood Hills community have been very clearly stated and I think everybody here has had a chance to hear them.”

With Planning Commissioner Anita Roberts absent, the remaining four commissioners unanimously voted to continue the item, hoping to find a way to reduce the amount of traffic that would use the proposed San Jose/St. Regis avenues connection, possibly allowing only emergency or city vehicles to use it.

Coincidentally, the commission’s review came at a time when the developer is suing the city for a second time regarding the processing of the project, saying it is “a victim of bias and political subterfuge.” But last month, Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Charles Treat continued the case until Nov. 7, and city staff said the next hearing date would not impact the Planning Commission’s consideration of the project.

Nearly 20 years in the making, the many times-modified Seeno West Coast Builders/ Discovery Builders project was widely criticized by residents who spoke Tuesday night, while a petition to halt its construction garnered 416 signatures in two days.

However, since the Seeno developers submitted the preliminary application in 2021 under Senate Bill 330, all city ordinances, including zoning and objective design standards, were locked in as of that date. Also dubbed the Housing Crisis Act, the law prohibits cities from rezoning or imposing new development standards that would reduce potential housing development, meaning it’s much easier for developers to win approvals.

Housing was envisioned at the site in the early 2000s and first approved in 2006, but Seeno later allowed the development agreement to expire. Seeno returned to the city to begin the approval process again in 2017 and 2020, but was denied in 2021, after which the developer filed suit against the city for its rejection — later settled in the city’s favor — and sued the city again in 2022 for its processing methods.

The currently proposed 68-acre housing development would be bounded by Old Sand Creek Road to the north, State Route 4 to the east, a single-family residential development (Brentwood Hills) to the south, and Antioch’s city limits to the west. The 272 houses would include 29 affordable ones and range in size from 1,808 to 3,222 square feet.

But for many residents, hundreds of new houses will just mean traffic headaches as drivers cut across neighborhoods to take children south to Heritage High and Adams Middle schools, where there is but one entrance.

As a Shadow Lakes resident, Jonathan Simpson said he witnesses daily the congested school traffic there, something that could only worsen with the proposed new homes to the north.

“For the quality of life, as well as for the safety of the people who live in those communities, I would respectfully suggest that you give a hard look to the consequence of adding that much more traffic on roads that are already basically gridlocked on a daily basis when you look at kids trying to get to school,” he said.

Sue Harper, another Shadow Lakes resident, also objected to the project, saying the area is already known as “the biggest traffic jam” in Brentwood when schools start and end for the day.

“The Bridle Gate development will add more cars to this already busy route,” she said, suggesting the traffic studies had underestimated vehicle numbers in the area.

Resident Michael Scott of Shadow Lakes also bemoaned the traffic and said with even more vehicles, people will be trapped in their neighborhoods if there’s an emergency.

“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 (Middle School),” he said.

Sinziana Todor, meanwhile, called Bridle Gate a “travesty, the worst thing that ever happened to Brentwood.” She said the data used in the project report was “stale.”

“How can you trust the report that collected data specifically on Sept. 13, 2017?” Todor asked, referring to the traffic counts used in the analysis. “You’ve all been witnessing the growth of our city since then. We need a new report that has credible data.”

Others objected to the proposed two small parks instead of one large one, the nearby capped oil wells and the noise levels with a highway near homes.

Following public comments, though, it was clear two issues haunted commissioners the most: potential traffic concerns and the need to reduce noise for those who will live closest to State Route 4.

“I think probably the worst issue for me, the most concerning, is the Shadow Lakes and Brentwood Hills traffic issue,” Flohr said. “I can work around it, but I understand what my neighbors are going through.”

Commissioner Kristopher Brand also said his top concern was traffic and suggested that the traffic studies “were not comprehensive enough.”

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Commissioner Derek Zeigler agreed, saying the traffic was “already a disaster” and was going “to get worse.”

But Zeigler also cautioned what could happen if commissioners deny the project, noting that the laws favor the developer.

“If we deny the project … they could come back and press the nuclear button and then they can come back with a really large amount of more homes.”

“That’s exactly what we don’t want,” he said. “What’s the lesser of two evils?”

Commission Vice Chairman David Sparling said he was torn about how to vote, acknowledging the developer has agreed to make adjustments but there are still potential traffic and noise problems.

In the end, commissioners agreed to have staff and the developer re-evaluate the Bridle Gate exit near Shadow Lakes or find a viable solution to reduce traffic through that area.

The proposal will return to the commission for further review at a later date.