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County approves 47-acre cemetery planned for north Livermore

Supervisors also deny appeals by city, community groups opposing project
Rendering of the approved Jewish mausoleum section of the Monte Vista Memorial Gardens project with underground interment and trellises in the shape of the Star of David.

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted last week to approve a new 47-acre cemetery planned for unincorporated north Livermore that had already received a green light from the county's Planning Commission.

Additionally, the board rejected an appeal by the city of Livermore and a joint appeal by community groups Friends of Livermore and Friends of Vineyards and Open Space. Both challenges sought to overturn the commission's decision to move the project forward last December, citing violations of Measure D -- an initiative first passed by voters in 2000 that aims to preserve agricultural land and open space in eastern Alameda County.

An amendment to Measure D was passed by voters in the November 2022 general election to allow more flexibility for the size and location of certain agriculture-related buildings and expand permitted wine country visitor-serving uses. However, opponents of the cemetery project argue that the planned mortuary building and funeral pavilion are urban uses not permitted outside the urban growth boundary of Measure D.

Proposed by developers Monte Vista Memorial Investment Group LLC, the project is set to be developed at 3656 Las Colinas Road, situated between the North Livermore Avenue and North First Street exits. It will include a funeral home, burial areas and associated services, including a crematorium and mortuary.

The cemetery, aptly named Monte Vista Memorial Gardens, would mostly serve all religions and accommodate the needs of several multicultural communities; however, roughly five acres will be specifically designed for the Jewish community. This area, called the Magen David section, will include a mausoleum designed in the shape of the Star of David.

The Board of Supervisors planning meeting on Aug. 10 was a continuation from a June meeting when the board directed the developers to revise the plans to scale down the building sizes not to exceed a maximum of 12,000 square feet to comply with Measure D.

Despite the building size reductions, the appellants and other opponents of the project argued during the meeting that the project's building footprint still exceeded 12,000 square feet due to the mausoleum structures in the initial proposal, which they believe to be buildings and should be treated as such. 

Opponents also argued that a funeral home is not agriculture related or compatible with agriculture and that funeral homes and cemeteries are separate and distinct uses, among other concerns.

The developers insisted that their goal by including a funeral home, mortuary and crematorium in the plans was to align with industry trends that indicate people prefer one-stop-shop experiences -- especially for handling end-of-life services -- than having to travel to multiple different places. They said that convenience and less time spent on the road is generally more desirable to people.

With Supervisors Lena Tam and Keith Carson absent, the remaining members -- David Haubert, Nate Miley and Elisa Márquez -- deliberated during the meeting about whether the mausoleum structures fall under the category of buildings.

County zoning law defines "buildings" as "any structure erected for the support, shelter or enclosure of persons, animals or property." According to the appellants, human remains are property that would make mausoleums and columbaria qualify as buildings.

However, other commenters who support the project argued that it would be a reach to determine that a structure with no walls, no utilities and no restrooms is a building.

Miley said he leaned more toward the side that the structures are buildings while Márquez's feelings aligned more with the opposite.

While the board did not formally assert its interpretation of what a building is, the version of the project that the supervisors approved eliminates the above-ground mausoleum structures altogether and instead requires below-ground interment with trellis framing the area designed in the same Star of David shape, which was among the proposals presented by the developer as a compromise.

To further protect the ridgelines around the project site, the approved version also increases the conservation easement from 15 to 18 acres to approximately 25 acres, with the exact size pending a consultation between the developers and the Tri-Valley Conservancy.

Now that the project has been approved, development is set to occur in two phases. The Phase I buildout would occur over approximately five years. Phase II buildout would occur over approximately 100 years and would be developed in subphases based on future demand and other development and regulatory factors.

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