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Coastsiders dig deep into Big Wave

Residents, developers dispute story poles

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Posted: Thursday, November 19, 2009 12:00 am

Sabers are rattling on both sides of a land use dispute between challengers and proponents of the proposed Big Wave development in Princeton as county planners prepare to hear a discussion of the proposal at a meeting this morning.

Big Wave is the name for a plan to construct two clusters of buildings as high as three stories comprising office space and a wellness center for people with developmental disabilities on a roughly 20-acre site along Airport Street. Today, the land supports a small farming operation.

The county released the draft Environmental Impact Report in October – describing the potential effects to Coastsiders. The public has until Dec. 24 to comment on that report. The end of the public comment period was pushed back after county planners learned at a Midcoast Community Council meeting this month that a section on water systems was missing from hard copies distributed to the public.

Coastsiders concerned about the size and scope of the project are seeking to unearth a clear view of impacts buried in the 2,220-page report before the comment period comes to a close. But without story poles to give some idea of the dimensions of the proposed buildings, challengers say it’s impossible to grasp the magnitude of the project. Erecting story poles would also get the attention of Coastsiders driving along Highway 1 who are unaware of the project but who may be affected if it gets built, they say.

“A project of this size will impact the whole area. … It will effect everybody,” not just people near the Big Wave site, asserts Midcoast Community Councilmember Neil Merrilees.

Big Wave Group is putting off the county’s request to erect story poles on the undeveloped site, calling it “senseless.” Putting up poles now would disrupt onsite agriculture, and be costly and futile, given the amount of time before the county is slated to make a decision on allowing the project. The group says visual renderings in the impact report accurately show how the buildings would look.

Story poles must be constructed at least 10 days prior to a final Planning Commission meeting tentatively scheduled for Feb. 24, according to San Mateo County Planning and Building Planner Camille Leung.

Merrilees and other people examining the development say the county’s review process is not suited to the scale of the project. He’d like to see it move at a more moderate pace in the case of Big Wave.

By contrast, Big Wave attorney Mike McCracken says the county is well equipped to handle the project, but isn’t doing it fast enough.

“I think the county has all the capability in the world to handle this. I don’t think they are handling it in a timely fashion, given their resources,” McCracken said.

The law firm representing the Big Wave Group issued a letter earlier this month to county Planning and Building Community Development Director Lisa Grote demanding the county comply with a state requirement to approve or deny the project application within one year from the date the application is deemed complete. The county accepted Big Wave’s application in February.

The one-year deadline can be “problematic” when vetting projects of Big Wave’s magnitude and complexity, said San Mateo County Counsel Michael Murphy.

“The bottom line is, when you have a project that, over time, is modified to meet unforeseen conditions that (emerge) … it requires you to step back and re-evaluate,” he said. “And that’s the challenge here.”

San Mateo County Planning Commission is taking public comment on the EIR at an informational meeting this morning in Redwood City.

To download the draft EIR, visit www.co.sanmateo.ca.us/portal/site/planning and look under the “Pending Projects/EIR” tab.

Big Wave lawyer warns of Beachwood-style lawsuit

Big Wave disputes the assessment of drainage channels stemming from the Princeton development site in the draft Environmental Impact Report, and warned that a lawsuit would ensue if the county failed to permit the project based on that assessment.

In a letter from Big Wave attorney David Byers to San Mateo County Planning and Building Director of Community Development Lisa Grote, the law firm accuses the group responsible for producing the Big Wave report of rendering an “inappropriate determination” of drainage flowing from the project site. In the letter, Byers says the county has failed to maintain its own drainage channel. Denying the project based on that assessment would spark an “inverse condemnation” lawsuit against the county.

Developer Charles Keenan filed a similar claim against the city of Half Moon Bay for failing to approve his proposed Beachwood development based on wetlands conditions the city created. The city ultimately agreed to a court settlement that obligated it to pay $18 million.

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