Preserving as much land as possible while using low-density development to repay the city's self loan to purchase 35 acres of land in San Juan Canyon was the direction given by the Belmont City Council to staff during a community meeting Tuesday.
The land was purchased in 2009 and the City Council held a study session in October to talk with developers about possible uses for the land. On Tuesday, the council met with the community during a three-hour meeting to discuss concerns and the next steps in developing the land.
Mayor Christine Wozniak said the city has a debt to itself, which it would like to pay back, but also there is a desire to preserve as much open space as possible. As a result, staff was asked to look for low-density development options that could cover a majority of the self loan while leaving the eastern portion of the land open.
Councilwoman Coralin Feierbach would like to see a guarantee that whatever parcels are not sold for development remain open unless the public decides it would be better used in another way. She is proposing to put a measure on the November ballot barring the sale of the other parcels of land in San Juan Canyon without a vote of the public.
With that direction, city staff will start to work together on a timeline and bring the item back to the council in the future, said Community Development Director Carlos de Melo.
In October, three developers gave presentations to the council and land owners Michael Melliar-Smith and Louise Moser made a pitch to the city for it to acquire their 18-acre horse ranch to be combined with the San Juan Canyon lots. At the time, developers Mingstan Development, Mayacama Partners LLC and Paul Goswamy made presentations to the city. Since then, Mingston Development has pulled itself from possibly working on the project, said de Melo.
Much of the property is on steep slopes and is considered undevelopable and the remainder of the open space will be connected to Belmont's trail system in the hills. About 22 acres are suitable to develop on Bishop Road and Marsten and Ralston avenues.
The primary expectations of the developer are to develop only those portions of the site that are deemed suitable for residential homes and identify the best uses for the balance of the open space.
The city has previously proposed to sell off a portion of the property for homes and to use some of those proceeds to purchase adjacent open space.
The property has a total of 87 plots included in the purchase that the city bid on in an auction held by the U.S. Marshals Service in 2009.
The city paid $1.4 million on four groups of property, which included taxes and fees. The purchase was made using an internal loan from the city's fleet account. That obligation was recently at about $1.5 million, said de Melo.
Selling some of the plots for homes will help pay for the original purchase of the land.
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