The plot is familiar: Large development proposed. Opposition organizes. Both sides hire lawyers.
That storyline is playing out again in Petaluma as Davidon Homes of Walnut Creek pursues the city's largest housing development in nearly a decade.
Planning commissioners and about 30 critics of the plan blasted the draft environmental impact report this week during its first public airing.
The City Council also will consider the draft EIR, possibly next month, with final review slated for late this year. Certification of the report by the City Council is the major hurdle for the project to move forward.
During a lengthy Planning Commission meeting Tuesday, it became clear that the Davidon project -- which was proposed a decade ago -- faces no easy path to approval.
Commissioners said the report was confusing and incomplete in several areas, including the examination of traffic, runoff into Kelly Creek and consistency with the city's hillside protection ordinance, which didn't exist when the project was first proposed.
At issue is the Davidon Homes proposal for as many as 93 houses on 60 acres at Windsor Drive and D Street, adjacent to Helen Putnam Regional Park. The subdivision is the largest housing project planned for Petaluma since the 274-home Quarry Heights.
In a 4?-hour hearing, the commission heard comments from about 30 members of the public on the report -- virtually all of whom raised concerns -- and agreed on several topics commissioners felt needed to be reevaluated in the final EIR.
Several commissioners said the number of scenarios with varying numbers of homes in different configurations made the report unclear.
The report included the original proposal for 93 homes that Davidon proposed in 2004. Davidon then proposed its own scaled-down alternative option of 66 homes, which also was included in the draft EIR, along with those with 48 and 28 homes. Removing lots to protect wildlife or preserve scenic views would reduce the numbers further.
Members of Petalumans for Responsible Planning, many of whom live in the Victoria Homes subdivision near the Davidon land, have hired an attorney to press their complaints.
Davidon Vice President Jeff Thayer and attorney Marie Cooper spoke briefly toward the end of the hearing, explaining the timeline and describing how they attempted to solve some of the environmental impacts before the draft EIR was done.
When some members of the audience jeered them, Cooper said the company is not backing down.
"It's taken nine years to get an EIR," Cooper said. "We're not starting over."
She said it appears the opponents are setting the table for a lawsuit to stop the project.
Critics argue the former Scott Ranch farmland is too scenic to be heavily developed and such a project -- particularly south of Kelly Creek -- would bring unwelcome noise, traffic, greenhouse gas emissions, and environmental and habitat damage. They also want to protect an old barn along the creek.
They also suspect Davidon seeks an easier track to approval by being judged by the old general plan instead of the newer one, which tightens development requirements.
Because the project application was deemed complete in 2004, it is subject to the general plan that was in effect before the city rewrote it in 2008.
Cooper said the project complies with both the newer general plan and the older one.