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Heifer project at Hidden Villa resurfaces

Photo Courtesy Of Heifer International According to architectural plans released in May, Heifer International's proposed "Global Village," located on land leased from Hidden Villa, includes a 5,000-square-foot open-air educational pavilion.
Los Altos Hills City Councilmembers effectively ended the town’s direct involvement in a contentious development on a vacant field at nearby Hidden Villa when they dropped efforts in June to annex a portion of the nature preserve from Santa Clara County.

Now, a push to wedge city officials between global non-profit Heifer International’s proposed 7,000-square-foot learning center and the Santa Clara County Planning Commission permit process could put the town back in the fray.

The Los Altos Hills Open Space Committee urged the city council Thursday to file a memo with the county opposing Heifer International’s plans to construct a “Global Village” – a world hunger and poverty education center – on Hidden Villa’s lower fields along Moody Road.

Councilmembers agreed at their Sept. 16 meeting to send a letter to the county outlining their general concerns and interest in tracking the project, but they declined to state specific misgivings until Heifer files its final application.

“This is why I thought annexation would have been a good idea. … We’d be involved in the project instead of sitting on the sidelines,” said Councilman Dean Warshawsky, who proposed in July 2009 annexing 213 acres of Hidden Villa.

The open space committee refuted recommendations made in a report by ecological consultants H.T. Harvey & Associates on Heifer’s behalf, which proposed allowing Heifer to build several structures within 50 feet of nearby Adobe Creek.

County ordinances dictate that a structure can’t be built closer than 150 feet from the top of a creek bank. Had the city annexed the land, structures would have had to conform to a more lax 25-foot setback, according to Debbie Pedro, Los Altos Hills planning director. H.T. Harvey’s report justified a variance, citing the project’s “unusual site geometry and long riparian frontage” as well as its “low-impact nature … and (Heifer’s) infrequent use.”

“We feel this really can’t go unanswered,” said Roger Spreen, open space committee chairman. Councilman Jean Mordo voiced concern that preliminary blueprints show that nearly all of Heifer’s structures violate the 150-foot setback by approximately 100 feet, but said the council should wait until final plans to pick it apart.

“You’re not supposed to attack something before it is presented,” he said. Heifer International officials filed a preapplication with the Santa Clara County Planning Commission June 18 defining a general vision of the project, but Jill Kilty Newburn, Heifer’s manager for the planned center, said it’s too early to criticize aspects of the proposal.

Councilwoman Ginger Summit agreed, calling the project a “moving target.” Newburn confirmed that the project could entail a 7,100-square-foot development comprising a support center and several structures that would depict Third World country villages.

The facility would host overnight youth programs focused on poverty and world hunger education, Newburn said.

Hidden Villa, in an effort to help offset budget shortfalls, leased 10 acres of land for two decades to Heifer at $100,000 per year, effective March 2008, according to Newburn.

Although Los Altos Hills city officials have no direct authority over Hidden Villa, which falls under Santa Clara County jurisdiction along with several other pockets of unincorporated land throughout town, Mordo said the town could still influence the project if it lodged a complaint. “In any development project, you ask the neighbors,” Mordo said. “We (Los Altos Hills) are the neighbors. … we do have influence.”

Citing a budding controversy among residents, the city and the preserve, Hidden Villa board members requested a withdrawal from the proposed annexation May 7, which the town honored. For several months, Heifer International officials remained in limbo, unsure of where to seek project approval – Los Altos Hills or Santa Clara County.

“While we still believe in the merits of annexation, Hidden Villa has no desire to cause unnecessary division in the community,” a Hidden Villa letter sent to the council reads.

Newburn said Heifer officials have received recommendations from the county planning commission and plan to tweak project details.

Contact Elliott Burr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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