Neighbors win favorable postponement on Horizon View

       After a hearing that lasted close to three hours April 28, City Council came out in favor of a small, pastoral neighborhood along Mesa Road that has resisted a proposed, modern-style development.

Looking south along the 1600 block of Mesa Road, the proposed Horizon View development property is at the left, including an older house that would be removed. The rural-style vista on this part of Mesa Road, featuring light development and large setbacks, deserves to be preserved, according to testimony at a City Council public hearing April 28 by residents of the “Rawles Open Space Neighborhood.”
Westside Pioneer photo

       The actual vote was to postpone action on the neighbors' appeal of the roughly 5-acre Horizon View development plan and subdivision plat until June 23. But the vote's stated purpose was to give developer Bill Guman time to revise his plan from 5 units to 3, as suggested by the neighbors.
       The postponement, was suggested by Mayor Lionel Rivera. The neighbors' argument was that the project as proposed did not meet the spirit of the city zoning code stipulation for compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood. Council members expressed agreement with that stance, but also empathized with Guman's efforts to follow city standards and did not want him to have to start again from scratch.
       “I'm pleased that you agreed to a postponement,” Gallagher said to Guman just before the vote, “because now I don't have to play Solomon.”
       The property in question is at 1635 Mesa Road, across the street from the 7-acre Rawles Open Space that's overseen by the non-profit Palmer Land Trust.
       Discussion delved into questions of what a neighborhood is and what the city zoning code really means. The neighbors claimed that their area of 85 acres, 31 houses and the Rawles Open Space is unique and deserves preservation because of its historically large lots (average lot size of about 2 ½ acres), long setbacks (100 to 200 feet from Mesa Road) and low-key, one-story homes. Meanwhile, they noted, the development proposal actually would average out to less than a half-acre per lot, because the five two-story homes would be on just two of the acres (the rear three being too steep to build on and deeded over to neighboring Sondermann Park).
       The project had originally been administratively approved by a city planner. In addressing compatibility at that time, staff followed the developer's opinion that a larger neighborhood swath should be considered, including Mesa Road areas to the north and south that have higher-density developments.

A map shows the properties and acreages near the Rawles Open Space, including Horizon View.
Courtesy of Rawles Open Space Neighborhood

       The neighbors had to appeal it twice (at a cost of $175 each time), first from the planner to Planning Commission and then, when that vote went against them, to council.
       The neighbors, who earlier had acted under the auspices of the Mesa Neighborhood Association, went by the name of the Rawles Open Space Neighborhood for the appeal to council.
       Guman criticized that change, claiming no such neighborhood appears on city lists and was “fabricated” for the occasion. However, Vice Mayor Larry Small disagreed. He pointed out that any citizen can file an appeal, and as for what defines a neighborhood, “When you go end to end on Mesa Road, you go through many neighborhoods,” he said. “Certainly what's identified as Rawles is a neighborhood, with its own distinct characteristics.”
       As for the proposal, even though it meets the requirements, he said, “this development is different in lot size, density, heights, setbacks and its cul de sac access. Therefore, this proposed development is different in character from adjacent properties and the area we have determind to be a neighborhood, so I believe it is not compatible with the neighborhood.”
       The neighborhood proposal would eliminate the cul de sac concept, giving each of the three lots its own driveway from Mesa Road.
       Dr. Kristin Hembre, the property owner, addressed City Council after the postponement idea appeared certain. She did not express opposition, but defended her original plan, offering the counter-opinion that in her view the Rawles open space is “an eyesore… I'm not big on open space just sitting there like that. I thought it would be better with houses on it.”

Westside Pioneer article