Lamorinda Sun Moraga council approves downtown plan By Jonathan Morales Contra Costa Times Posted: 01/28/2010 01:03:52 PM PST FAIR comment: 630 housing units would add, even at $500,000 per unit, $315 million to Moraga's property tax base. Including the commercial real estate in this plan, that could increase the value to $400 million. This will generate $4 million dollars per year in new property tax revenue, increasing at over 2% per year. Of that, the Moraga-Orinda Fire District will receive $750,000 while the Town of Moraga will only receive $200,000. What will it cost MOFD to service these new residences? Nothing. The Moraga Way station currently responds to 1,000 incidents per year. The new development will increase this load by about 150 incidents per year. The average ConFire station responds to about 1,600 incidents per year and the busiest stations respond to 2,500 incidents. Moraga needs to join Orinda in taking control of its property taxes. How long it took to get to Wednesday night depends on when you started counting, but all Town Council members agreed the time had come to approve a sweeping plan for Moraga's downtown. "This is a pretty good fruit," said Councilman Howard Harpham. "It's not perfect, but it's time to do the harvest." Ten years after it was first conceived, seven years after initial planning started and three years after the grunt work of forging the document began, the Moraga Town Council unanimously approved the Moraga Center Specific Plan, setting the stage for big changes in the coming years to the area where Moraga Road and Moraga Way intersect. Implementation of the plan will, among other things, revitalize the shopping center, provide housing for seniors who want to sell larger homes but remain in Moraga and satisfy the town's state-mandated affordable housing requirement, council members said. "We don't have a 'heart of Moraga' right now, and that's something I think that is long overdue," said Councilman Dave Trotter. The plan wasn't without last-minute opposition. Several residents e-mailed council members this week asking them to hold off on approving the plan or scrap it altogether. They joined a handful of others who had spoken at council meetings in December and earlier this month. Critics say the plan will bring too much development and traffic to a community that prides itself on being small and "semirural." "Seems like there's a lot of citizens who are just becoming aware (of the downtown plan) and many who are concerned," Moraga resident David Ramazetti told the council Wednesday. Council members acknowledged the opposition, but said the plan was the result of years of planning and public discussion. "This plan provides something that was requested by Moraga citizens for years, and that is to have a variety of housing that serves the needs" of a variety of people, including seniors and Saint Mary's College students and faculty, said Vice Mayor Karen Mendonca. The most visible changes will likely be in the area just east of the Moraga shopping center. Under the plan, School Street will be extended to meet Moraga Road with the hope of attracting new retail and creating a new town "main street." Across Laguna Creek, the plan calls for a mixture of housing types, ranging from single-family homes along Camino Ricardo to medium- and high-density housing closer to School Street for families, workers, students and seniors. The total number of new housing units is capped at 630 and would be regulated by the town's traffic budget. That budget stipulates how many vehicle trips out of Moraga in the morning and back into Moraga in the evening are permissible. Higher-density housing, especially senior housing, can be allowed because it generates fewer commute-hour trips than do typical single-family homes, according to staff. The plan also calls for the expansion and revitalization of the current shopping center. Although the downtown plan has been approved, that doesn't mean developments have been approved, said Planning Director Lori Salamack. With the exception of six acres of high-density housing, which Salamack said is included to satisfy the affordable housing requirement, any development within the plan area would have to go through the normal environmental and design reviews to ensure they are consistent with the general plan and the specific plan. "This is really sort of an intermediate step," Salamack said, "It's not the first step and it's not the last step that we're taking before housing is developed." Contact Jonathan Morales at 925-943-8048. Read the Lamorinda Sun blog at www.ibabuzz.com/lamorindasun.
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