Proposed development a troubling prospect for some San Bruno residents affected by pipeline blast

For some San Bruno residents who survived the PG&E natural-gas pipeline explosion that devastated the Crestmoor neighborhood, the prospect of a new housing development would open old wounds from which they are still reeling nearly four years later.

In the years since the September 2010 blast that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes, many homes have been rebuilt and the underground infrastructure has been replaced. A number of reformations have taken place including new laws, fines have been issued, and PG&E was recently charged with obstruction of justice, among other counts, in connection with the investigation. But further construction in the area, including a proposed development that could add 30 homes, might strain the ongoing recovery for residents, some neighbors note. The project would replace a vacant church and parsonage on Glenview Drive, and would also include an adjacent land parcel at the corner of Glenview and San Bruno Avenue.

Among residents' concerns are potential traffic and parking impacts as well as additional construction noise in their neighborhood, which has seen continuous roadwork, rebuilding and infrastructure replacement since the disaster.

Carolyn Gray, whose home was rebuilt after the explosion, said many of her neighbors are still undergoing counseling and attending an informal support group to help them deal with the traumas they experienced. The loud booms and other sounds from current work in the neighborhood can trigger some survivors' post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and new-development construction noises would only make the situation worse, Gray said.

Echoing Gray's opinion is neighbor Debra Marks, who is a clinical psychologist.

“When you're constantly reminded of the trauma, it becomes a trigger,” Marks said.

According to Marks, work crews have been a constant presence in the neighborhood, replacing existing gas pipelines, sewer laterals and water mains, as well as modifying street surfaces. There are also 10 vacant lots in the neighborhood that are slated to have homes built on them soon.

“We're still in the midst of dealing with the aftermath of this tragedy,” Marks said. “So the thought of more dirt, more trucks and more construction is just something no one wants to deal with in addition to the current project.”

Previously owned by Peace Lutheran Church, the church building and parsonage were bought by nearby Church of the Highlands, which later announced its intention to sell the property. The project's applicants, developer Ricky Cheng and architectural firm Panko Architects, held two public meetings in March to inform Crestmoor residents about the proposal and address any concerns.

But resident Diane Sundberg believes some concerns were not adequately addressed. When asked to provide examples of previous projects completed by the developers, Cheng declined, claiming those projects are not relevant to the one under consideration, because they were different and outside the U.S., Sundberg said.

Cheng did not respond to an interview request. Panko Architects owner Stanley Panko and Church of the Highlands senior Pastor Leighton Sheley were both unavailable for comment on the project.

Referring to potential parking and traffic impacts, Gray noted that there are only a few streets leading in and out of Crestmoor, and she said traveling from Glenview Drive onto San Bruno Avenue is so difficult during rush hour that she often takes longer, alternate routes to leave the neighborhood.

City Manager Connie Jackson said the proposed project would consist of detached, single-family homes, each of which would have two-car garages and driveway parking. She said the project would also include private streets with an additional 21 parking spaces. Potential traffic and other impacts will be analyzed during the project's environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act, Jackson added.

Before the project can proceed, it will be subject to review and recommendations by the San Bruno Architectural Review Committee and Planning Commission, and final approval by the City Council. Those processes will involve public meetings, Jackson said, and Crestmoor residents will be encouraged to attend and provide input.

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