The North Brookings Community Associations attempt to preserve the cozy nature of the Dawson Tract neighborhood suffered a setback at Tuesday nights Brookings Planning Commission meeting.

Walter Battaglia, a spokesman for the neighborhood organization, is seeking a zoning change for the entire Dawson Tract, a 140-acre area just north of Harris Beach State Park.

The group wants to decrease housing density by increasing minimum lot size from 6,000 square feet, which the city zoned and designed for in 1989, to 10,000 square feet, which would limit the number of homes that could be put on a larger parcel.

Despite more than 80 pages of correspondence, color-coded charts, applications, maps and signed petitions, and a number of impassioned pleas from Dawson Tract residents, the Planning Commission voted 5-1 to deny the zone change request. Commissioner Russ Fritz stepped down because of a conflict of interest. Intern Erin Gardner abstained.

In the end, the commission decided to recommend to the City Council that retaining the original 6,000-square-foot minimum lot size, including an additional 1,500 square feet required for off-street parking, was the best way to develop the Dawson Tract. The issue will next be heard by the City Council.

Just prior to hearing the NBCAs application for a zone change, the commission unanimously approved a final map for Phases 3 and 4 of Oceanside Estates II in the Dawson Tract.

The commissions decision also seemed to back the citys position that the NBCA did not represent the majority of land owners in the Dawson Tract or that the group successfully argued its case. The commission was also concerned about the legality of a zone change over such a large area.

I dont see how you can put a blanket zone change on the whole area, said Richard Wilson, a local real estate broker. Normally you put zone changes on single lots. So I dont see how this is legal.

Legality aside, Dawson Tract residents offered a thorough argument for requesting the zone change. In his application, Battaglia cited public safety, convenience, welfare and sentiment, general welfare, and the environment as reasons the group is seeking a zone change.

People in Dawson Tract see the area in a totally different way than (city planner John Bischoff) and developers do, Battaglia explained. We do not want high density housing in the area.

Battaglia said nearly 65 percent of the residents of Dawson Tract contacted by the NBCA supported the zoning change. The group also submitted petitions with 122 signatures, representing 77 households out of a possible 187, it claimed supported the change.

Carolyn Kelly Douglas, a four-year resident of the area, said the desire to reduce housing density in Dawson Tract crosses socio-economic boundaries in the neighborhood.

These people who voted this 10,000-square-foot change arent just the people out there trying to protect their ocean bluffs. They are people on the interior in smaller homes, Douglas said.

Several Dawson Tract residents complained that continued development within the citys current single family residential 6,000 square foot minimum lot size (R-1-6) zoning would overburden sewer and water lines, is already creating traffic problems and would eliminate open space.

Teresa Dillon said she moved into Dawson Tract 11 years ago and in that time has seen the number of vehicle trips and speed increase to dangerous proportions.

We have lost three pets (to traffic accidents) right out of our driveway, she explained. I dont let my 8-year-old walk down to Zia Court to play now.

Charles Stanton claimed the larger lots being requested by the proposed zone change would leave Dawson Tract more green space even though development would continue.

Large lot sizes will leave Dawson Tract less cluttered, he said. This is important in an area where there are no parks, no bicycle lanes, no open space and no public facilities.

Mike Freels, another Dawson Tract resident, claimed that his neighborhood is experiencing too much rapid growth and its infrastructure is already having problems.

Most areas grow at rates from 2 to 5 percent. Ten percent is considered explosive growth, Freels said. Dawson is growing at rates exceeding 20 percent.

Freels said the neighborhood has been a victim of a city experiment to test the maximum capabilities of water, sewer and traffic capacities, as well as the patience of its residents. He said current water and sewer services are already overtaxed.

It comes down to what kind of community do we want to have, Battaglia said. When you walk around Dawson Tract, all you see is green. Large lots. Large houses. Lots of space. We like that.

The city, represented by Bischoff, who compiled the staff report, started off by saying the NBCA petition did not represent the majority of property owners in the area. He said there are 223 lots in Dawson Tract and three of those are owned by government agencies. That left only 220 possible lots that could be represented on a petition. And with some land owners holding title to multiple lots, there are only 191 possible owners who would have the right to request a zone change.

The petition you are looking at has a lot of names on it, yes. But you are looking at a lot of husbands and wives, which constitute one owner, Bischoff said. The petition represents only about 40 percent of the property owners.

The city planner also addressed the neighborhood groups concerns and basis for its request. He said that current city zoning does represent the best use of land in the Dawson Tract, and existing streets, water supply, sewer handling lines and storm drains are designed to support a larger population than currently exists.

The current zoning also supports Goal 10 of the citys comprehensive plan, which, Bischoff said, provides the best opportunity for developers to offer a variety of housing at lower costs. Goal 10 also states the city will not unduly restrict land development thereby artificially inflating the cost of both new and existing housing, but rather provide land in suitable quantities and encourage the construction of new residential units to meet increased demand.

Bischoffs report also pointed out that any traffic problems the area now experienced were, in part, the residents own doing because they requested and were granted a narrower street standard by the 1993 City Council. That decision went against the advice of city planners who wanted wider, city standard street widths.

Bischoff also reiterated the citys stance that Dawson Tract represents the largest area of flat, developable land left in the city.

As much as people dont want to hear it, when they bought out there it was zoned R-1-6, Bischoff told the commission. I cannot imagine they did not expect those lots to be developed.

The city planner wasnt alone in his argument to deny the zone change. Several Dawson Tract property owners spoke out against the proposal. Most were concerned about losing much of the $21,000 per acre assessment they had already paid. Others worried they would no longer be allowed to subdivide property they had purchased years earlier.

One of the things that hasnt been mentioned here is this will cost people a lot of money, said Jeff Holmes, a Dawson Tract resident. Who is going to pay these people if they cant develop their property?

Finally, the commission agreed with the citys assessment of the situation and the Dawson Tract property owners who preferred status quo. Commissioner Craig Mickelson said he didnt like the idea of sending a recommendation to the City Council that could have serious legal ramifications.

And he felt he had to respect the rights of the current property owners.

You do have to respect the land owners and the use of that land, Mickelson said. I think (the zone change proposal) is very restrictive and I cannot support that application.

His statement reflected the opinions of the rest of the voting commissioners.