Council Approves Plan to Swap Development Rights


A complex plan to swap development rights, which divided the City Council and pitted residents against one another, was approved Tuesday after more than five hours of sometimes acrimonious debate.

Shortly before midnight, the council voted 3 to 2, with members Linda Parks and Ed Masry dissenting, to sign agreements designed to save the Western Plateau, 180 acres of environmentally sensitive land otherwise approved for a development of 147 million-dollar homes.

The land swap involves the developer's loss of rights on the plateau in exchange for permission to build the same number of units in other parts of the city, including on land owned by two other developers. Those developers, in turn, would be authorized to build more profitable housing than that for which they have been approved: apartments in the Dos Vientos subdivision that are geared to seniors and other low-income tenants.

Now, the three developers involved will submit applications for various housing projects that still need approval by the Planning Commission and City Council, said City Atty. Mark Sellers.

If the overall deal falls apart, Sellers said, everything will revert to its current status.

Parks said she was concerned that council members had less than 24 hours to review the complicated agreements. She asked to delay a decision for two weeks, but was voted down.

Masry, maintaining that the developers have signed nothing, said his concern was what would happen if any of the developers eventually want to back out of the agreement. He disputes that the Western Plateau will be preserved as a result of the plan.

More than 200 people packed City Hall for the meeting, most of them supporting the rights swap that was approved. But many urged the council to leave the Western Plateau alone, in hopes it will remain undeveloped.

In other action, the council approved a six-month extension for developer Caruso Affiliated Holdings to secure a movie theater tenant for a $40-million retail complex being planned next to the Civic Arts Plaza.

Because of financial turmoil in the movie-theater industry, financing is tough to come by. Proponents of the Discovery Center, a $70-million science museum that is part of the overall redevelopment project, say the 14-screen theater is needed to draw people to the center's exhibits.

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