Sun04202014

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LAH council keeps its cool during heated annexation discussion


Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Photo Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

Parcels on Mora Drive in unincorporated Santa Clara County, adjacent to Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, are being considered for annexation into Los Altos Hills.

After six months of meetings and public hearings, a neighborhood adjacent to Los Altos Hills is nearing annexation, despite objections from one landowner.

The Los Altos Hills City Council unanimously approved annexation of 28 unincorporated properties in the Mora Drive area Oct. 24, but that doesn’t conclude the process. A public hearing on the protest is scheduled Nov. 30. According to Santa Clara County Local Agency Formation Committee (LAFCO) regulations, if “less than 25 percent of the voters or 25 percent of the landowners owning less than 25 percent of the assessed land value submit a written protest,” the annexation proposal can be submitted to LAFCO for final approval.

Although recent annexations of two other unincorporated areas of Santa Clara County – La Loma and Olive Tree Hill – met with little resistance, unique circumstances complicate the annexation process for Mora Drive. Most of the property owners in the Mora area, located near Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, favor annexation, but one property owner has challenged the process.

“The town rushed annexation forward and denied my rights to sewer connections,” said Forrest Linebarger, the dissenting property owner. “I would expect to be treated fairly by our government.”

After Linebarger purchased a parcel of land on Mora Drive in 2006, he successfully petitioned the Santa Clara County assessor’s office to reassess two underlying lots into two legal lots, of 0.37-acre and 0.4-acre size, both significantly smaller than Los Altos Hills’ requirement of a 1-acre minimum parcel. Linebarger lives in a home on the remainder of his parcel and plans to develop new homes on the two reassessed lots.

If Mora Drive is annexed, Linebarger’s properties could be merged to conform to town code that states that “underlying lots may be merged if they are in the same ownership, are contiguous and they do not conform to standards for minimum parcel size (1 acre).”

Linebarger’s attorney said the merger could result in his client’s losing millions of dollars in property value.

“The fact that he made a bad decision and we might feel bad about it is not a reason to deny the neighbors a legal request to be annexed,” Councilman Jean Mordo said of Linebarger’s subdividing his property.

Sewer problems

Linebarger might have been able to begin construction on the planned new homes before annexation moved forward if he had secured a Santa Clara County building permit, but he encountered sewer problems.

Mora Drive homes were built on septic systems, but owners paid for access to Los Altos Hills’ sewer system. Property owners in the area pending annexation signed an agreement in 2000 stipulating that each of the 28 properties would be entitled to one sewer connection if the neighborhood paid the infrastructure costs. Connections are often necessary to secure building permits from Santa Clara County.

The town denied Linebarger’s request for two sewer connections last month, on the basis that the properties for which he applied were ineligible.

Following the denial and what he characterized as disinterest from town staff to make accommodations, Linebarger mailed a letter to the city council on the eve of the public hearing last week threatening legal action.

Linebarger’s attorney, Gregory K. Klingsporn of Mitchell, Herzog & Klingsporn LLP, alleged that the town and Linebarger’s neighbors were conspiring against him “by seeking this annexation agreement for the stated purpose of frustrating Mr. Linebarger’s permits and limiting his future development options.”

As successor to the property owner who signed the 2000 sewer agreement, Linebarger is subject to the terms of the agreement. Modifying the original sewer agreement is technically possible, but Linebarger would need to fulfill all requirements of the process, which includes appealing to LAFCO and his neighbors to add sewer connections.

Linebarger considers his proposal to build two new homes part of a sustainable effort to prevent suburban sprawl. He cited his work with GreenTown Los Altos and his sustainable architecture business as evidence of his commitment to the community.

“The intent of the agreement was a single sewer connection for a single address or house,” wrote Harold Feeney, former manager of the Mora Drive Sewer Project in an Oct. 22 letter to the town.

“I feel bad for Mr. Linebarger, as he made a bad business decision,” said Councilman Gary Waldeck at the Oct. 24 meeting. “I think he very sincerely thought he could build three houses there and get three connections.”

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