Transparency Breaks Down in Avenir Approval

By many measures, Avenir is a “big deal”.

Development of the Vavrus Ranch, the last major undeveloped parcel within the PBG City limits, has been years in the planning. Starting with plans for the “Biotech Village”, when Scripps was expected to rise on adjacent Mecca Farms, proposals for the site, whose current zoning allows for about 400 ranchettes, have been as high as 10000 units. Opposition based on environmental concerns, infrastructure burdens and the traffic load on Northlake Boulevard have worked to help shape the plans of the current owner, Landstar Development Group, into a quite remarkable design.

The plan, which accounted for 3735 dwelling units (plus 250 units of workforce housing), puts the entire northern portion of the property into conservation, enabling a flow-way connecting wide swaths of open land, provides land to the city for recreation and economic development, and builds enough commercial facilities to capture upward of 25% of the traffic that would be generated by the housing units as well as that now originating from the Acreage. Furthermore, the developer provides land and funding to widen Northlake Boulevard from Beeline to Avenir, and will build a connector road between Northlake and Beeline Highway, further distributing the traffic.

City staff worked closely with the developer and agreed to a solid plan that was approved 7-0 by the Planning and Zoning Board, placing it before the City Council last night with the strongest support of any project of the last few years. Projects like this don’t come around very often, and it was an opportunity that needed to be embraced.

As you probably know, the Council voted 5-0 to approve Ordinance 3,2016, which modified the comprehensive plan, changed the land use designation of the site from RR10 and RR20 to Mixed Use Development (MXD), and relocated the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) to include the property. This was a good thing.

The process for approval though was something else.

After 90 minutes of developer and staff presentations of the very detailed plan, and three hours of public comment on the specifics (about 50-50 for and against), Mayor Jablin led off the discussion by reading a statement. The gist of the statement was that he had reached a “deal” with the developer to reduce the size of the project to 3000 units (plus the 250 workforce housing units) in return for his support. This means that in effect, several years of detailed planning, give and take with staff and the public, and the bulk of discussion at this meeting, were all thrown aside in favor of a “back-room” deal, negotiated out of the public view, with no opportunity for involvement of Council, staff or public.

It was hard to tell if the rest of the Council knew this was coming. David Levy, who had been a staunch critic of the project said he could support it at 3000, but would have voted against it at the higher number. The other three council persons seemed to imply they would have supported it either way, which if true, meant the project could have been approved without the last minute “deal”.

For Rosa Schechter and the Avenir Team it is definitely a win, as their project can move forward, but an outside observer could almost conclude that the Mayor had held a gun to their head. After quite a few years of watching the Council interact with Developers, we have never seen an approval done this way. It made a mockery of the public process, and is somewhat reminiscent of the backroom dealings around the baseball stadium.

We are happy for the Avenir team that their project is being approved, but the process leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

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