The City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday to continue the planning process for developing a mostly vacant 1,100-acre tract of land called East Pleasanton even though the need for additional housing there has gone away.
The council's action came at the end of a two-hour-long public discussion on whether to continue the work of the city's East Pleasanton Specific Plan Task Force that has been meeting for the last 18 months to consider future development of the property.
The land, formerly mined for sand and gravel, is located east of Valley Avenue and north of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and Stanley Boulevard.
The task force was formed to consider a development with up to 2,700 high density apartment units to meet more housing needs imposed by the state's Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). But a new report shows that Pleasanton has fulfilled those requirements for at least the rest of the decade and possibly well beyond.
As a result, city planners asked the council to weigh in on whether to continue the task force study, slow it down or mothball the work until new RHNA numbers are issued in 2022 and determine if more high density housing is then required.
The majority of council members and most of the 13 speakers who addressed the issue Tuesday night favored continuing the task force work, including an environmental report now being prepared. They noted that if the work stopped now, months of task force, consultant and city staff time and expenses would be wasted without ever looking at the possibilities an east side development could bring to Pleasanton.
Mayor Jerry Thorne said previous councils and planning officials have wrestled with how to develop the east side property for years, "long before there were any RHNA numbers to deal with."
"Let's go ahead now with no pressure to meet state mandates and see what kind of development would work best on that land," Thorne said. "Once we have a plan, I'd even support taking it to voters to see if they'd support an east side development."
Dave Stark, chairman of the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce, agreed.
"Let's not walk away from this process," he urged the council. "Let's complete it so that residents can understand how the land could be utilized."
Former Councilwoman Sharrell Michelotti said that in her many years on the planning commission and council, there was never a time when city leaders turned back a process such as the east side study and discontinued it.
"A lot of people have invested time, money and energy on this planning process," she said. "We need to see it through and determine the impact."
To meet state-imposed housing requirements, some 70 acres of available properties in Pleasanton were rezoned over the past two years for high density apartment buildings. That action not only satisfied court and state Housing Authority orders to provide more affordable housing in the community, but provided more than enough rezoned land and apartment sites to meet the RHNA numbers of 2,067 housing units at least through 2022.
During this period, the East Pleasanton Specific Plan Task Force has been meeting to consider future development of the east side site. Although the site has 1,100 acres, much of it consists of lakes controlled by Zone 7 with roughly 400 acres suitable for development. Early planning has called for homes, apartment buildings, retail and commercial businesses, and a public elementary school to be part of the development.
An environmental review of the task force's preferred, or base plan, that calls for 2,279 new homes and apartments on the site, is now underway with the results expected to show the need for roads, sewers, water lines and other infrastructure and the economic feasibility for developers to pay for it, as required in the plan.
Going forward, now that the RHNA numbers have been met, any residential development on the east side will be subject to the city's new annual Growth Management allocation of 238 residential units citywide.
The options considered at Tuesday night's meeting included complete the task force's recommended specific plan for the east side, slowing it down with a "phasing" plan for the construction of infrastructure components (water, sewer, roads) that could also allow some commercial development there, while retaining some areas for future high density housing, or scuttling the task force work for now and resuming it closer to 2022 if it is thought that additional sites for housing will be needed in the 2022-2030 RHNA cycle.
Brian Dolan, director of Community Development that includes the city's planning department, said that a shutdown of the task force's work and the pending EIR study now would likely mean having to start all over again at the end of the decade.
"In another six to eight years, so many conditions will have changed that we'll have to have new traffic and environmental studies," he said.
Council members also worried that a step back in the planning process could mean losing the opportunity to extend El Charro Road from Stoneridge Drive to Stanley Boulevard, which has been part of the East Side task force's considerations.
"El Charro will be needed in the future and it's important that we have a specific plan that includes funding for building out El Charro," said Councilwoman Cheryl Cook-Kallio. "I don't want to stop the process, although I would like now to re-look at the idea of what's to be built on the east side."
Councilman Jerry Pentin agreed.
"I see no reason to stop this planning process now," he said.
Councilwoman Kathy Narum also voted to continue the task force planning process.
"We're 18 months into this process now," she said. "At the end of the day, we will have a better understanding of the impact of development on this site, including impacts on the city's traffic, water and sewer capacities. I have real concerns for how this might affect traffic at Valley and Bernal avenues at Stanley Boulevard where we have another housing development about to get underway."
But Councilwoman Brown disagreed. As a member of the East Side task force early on, she recalls that all of the concerns dealt with RHNA numbers. With those no longer a concern, she urged the council to stop the planning process for now.
"Let's stop and wait, and bring it back if needed at the next RHNA cycle," she said. "Maybe we should look at the area for trails and open space instead of high density housing."
Brown said that Pleasanton school board member Valerie Arkin also had conveyed her opposition to continuing the east side study.
Former Councilwoman Kay Ayala also asked that the east side planning process be halted.
"The citizens of this community are not in favor of this," Ayala told the council. "This won't be a specific plan that sails through. There will be a lawsuit filed if the project moves forward."
But other speakers, including Arne Olson, Bob Silva and Pat Costanza, urged the council to keep the east side planning process going.
"This task force has been working on the east side plan for 18 months," said Olson, who is a member of the Pleasanton planning commission. "The draft specific plan is nearing completion, the draft EIR is underway. To stop the process now would be disrespectful to the people who have participated in this effort."
Thorne, in voting to continue the east side study, said that with the RHNA numbers issue off the table, the task force can now be "more creative" in its planning ideas and also now has the time to continue its efforts without pressure.
"I think that with all that the task force has accomplished so far and now with extra time to be more creative, we can have a plan that we can take to voters for approval."
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