San Juan Canyon has been
saved. The clarion call to protect nearly 30 acres of Belmont open space has
been heard, and acted upon in a 4-0 vote by Belmont City Council.
On Tuesday night, the council took two major actions in preserving the hillside land that is bordered by Ralston Avenue and Sugarloaf Mountain—it amended the city’s General Plan, to create a new zoning designation; and it re-designated the land to this new zone—OS-P (Open Space-Public). The new designation will allow a more limited set of uses than the existing Agricultural and Open Space District, and notably, will not allow residential development.
Carlos de Melo, the city’s director of community development reviewed the timeline and gave an overview of the process, which began 2009, when the council authorized the purchase of 87 vacant parcels (comprising approximately 35 acres) located in the San Juan Hills Area. The parcels were acquired for $1.5 million.
“It’s very rare that the city creates a brand-new zoning district,” de Melo said.
Eight acres were sold to a real estate developer earlier this year for $2.05 million, which covered the city’s outlay, and allowed for the preservation of the remaining 27 acres. In addition, the city put a condition of the sale that the owners designate six of their acres back as open space.
The city has limited the development of those eight acres to a maximum of three single-family residential parcels clustered in the upper two acres near the Bishop Road frontage. In addition, the city put a condition of the sale that the owners designate six of their acres back as open space.
“It was a long time coming and this is almost the final step to preserving the canyon, the final step would be to make it parkland,” said Councilwoman Coralin Feierbach, the canyon’s biggest supporter.
“We started this (efforts to preserve the canyon) in 1978 with a little task force when the whole canyon was zoned for 1000 units,” said Feierbach.
Mayor Christine Wozniak agreed that new zoning designation can be used as a stepping stone to creating parkland in the canyon.
“There are steps we can take to make it a park, and we will direct staff to come up with a checklist. I have confidence that we can do this expeditiously,” said Wozniak.
Several members from the group “Friends of Open Space” addressed the council, including Jeanette Sacco-Belli, who, although pleased with the council’s vote, says that the rezoning isn’t enough.
“This doesn’t really change anything. There are tons of loopholes---we need to make this permanent parkland. I was told by the city attorney it would be parkland, “ said Sacco-Belli.
In addition to maintaining open space, the city hopes to recoup the approximate $1.5 million debt on the properties, provide pedestrian and fire vehicle access, and limit development to a maximum of three single family residential parcels clustered in the upper two acres near the Bishop Road frontage.
members agreed to change the conditional use section of the ordinance to “none”
following a lengthy discussion about allowing a wireless communications
facility in the canyon.
“I don’t want to see cell towers in the San Juan Canyon. I have no idea why you’d even want something like that there.” said Feierbach.
Dave Warden agreed, “Allowing cell towers from the get-go doesn’t sit well with
The council voted 4-0 (Councilman David Braustein was absent) to adopt a resolution amending the General Plan Land Use designations for the city-owned San Juan Hills Area properties; and to introduce an ordinance establishing the OS-P (Open Space-Public) Zoning District and rezoning the properties.