February 14, 2009

If you build it, they will come--and you'll piss off your neighbors and irk your town’s planning commission

Once upon a time there was a rich Danville man who decided to do something he thought would be nice for himself and his 11-year-old son’s little league team which he had volunteered to coach. David Lowe decided to build himself and the kids a private slice of heaven: an 18,000- square-foot private athletic field, complete with a 14-foot-high fence, artificial turf, batting cage, and lights for night practices.

Lowe had a piece of land to do it, on a ridgeline above his Danville home. And it was so necessary. With his busy job as a stock market investor at a San Francisco-based firm he co-founded, Lowe found it hard to fit in practice times for his son’s team.

So, in 2007, Lowe spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to build his field of dreams (which you can see here in this San Francisco Chronicle photo). But, apparently, he failed to mention his plans to his neighbors--and he failed to get any permits from the city.

Not surprisingly, Lowe’s personal field of dreams turned out to be a nightmare for his neighbors and for Danville town planners. Some neighbors complained to different news outlets that the high wire fences on the hill made it look like they were living beneath a prison, a suburban version of Guantanamo Bay. Others said the field and fencing blocked their views of Mount Diablo. Still others complained about the noise the kids made during the practices and expressed concerns about the stability of Lowe’s unauthorized retaining wall.

Danville officials weren’t too happy either and ordered Lowe to tear down his field.

Lowe and his wife, Connie, decided to go back to the drawing board. They worked with architects and town planners on ways to bring the field in compliance, the Danville Weekly reports. It turns out that zoning in the area allows the Lowe family to build the field, but Lowe agreed to reduce the field's size to 15,000 square feet and the fence to six feet high. He also said he would plant oak trees on two sides to “reduce the visual impact,” and to not hold organized team practices on the field. To go forward with his plans, he just needed permission to move 273 cubic yards of soil.

He sought that permission and submitted his revised plans to Danville Planning Commissioners for them to approve at their meeting this past Tuesday night. One neighbor who spoke, Joni Wolf, still expressed concerns “about the artificial turf field and the possibility of lead leeching into the soil or dust from the field settling into the neighbor's properties,” the Danville Weekly said. "[Wolf] said she understands about being able to make improvements on private property, but there is more than just their property affected. 'Yes, it's their back yard, but I don't think they should have this sense of entitlement. This is a hillside that impacts the area in a lot of ways,' " she said.

The planning commissioners didn’t say yes or no to the revised plans, much to David and Connie Lowe's evident disappointment, the Weekly reported. (They left the meeting without making any comment to the Weekly.) Commissioners said they needed more information on plans for the fencing, the landscaping, and erosion control. But they decided to say “no” to lights and batting cages.

Commissioner Robert Storer said there was no hurry to make a decision: “It's been 18 months. They didn't come back immediately, the neighbors are still upset. There are still things unresolved.”


Anonymous said...

I hope he has to tear it down - those ridgeline views should be maintained at all costs.

Anonymous said...

This is just the start... there are at least 10 ongoing cases of the self-absorbed pushing into the ridgelands and ignoring local planning laws. I can't imagine living near this ballfield when those cages are in use, you can hear that dreadful "pinging" of aluminum bat on ball for a hundred yards and, while that may not seem like much, project it out for twenty or thirty kids at all hours (I assume that's what the lights were for...) and you'll go nuts. People... have a good life but SHUT THE HELL UP. You won't hear us, I don't want to hear YOU!

Anonymous said...

Maybe there's a theme here. One we've needed to see for a long time. Rich people aren't getting their way anymore. They can't sell their gaudy big houses, and David Duffield can't build his museum-sized palace, and now this guy can't just go and build his ball field. Nice that he had hundreds of thousands of dollars to pour down the drain for a project that the city said no to.