Council OKs gym, parish buldings at Elizabeth Seton
Near-midnight vote favors year-long church bid
The City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday to allow the Catholic Community of Pleasanton to build its long-sought 22,296-square foot parish center and gymnasium next to St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church on Stoneridge and Rheem drives.
The Rev. Dan Danielson, who applauded the vote that came shortly before midnight, said the church fundraising campaign has successfully ended and he will now seek a construction loan from the Catholic Archdiocese of Oakland, which is expected to grant the request. Construction could start this summer.
The multi-million-dollar project has faced scrutiny from city planners and the Planning Commission for most of 2006, with Planning Commission Chairwoman Anne Fox continuing a scheduled public hearing after Danielson and parishioners had already filled the council chamber for the meeting, and then the commission failed to have a quorum at another scheduled meeting, with the city's principal planner canceling the session at the last minute.
The Planning Commission's minutes of its Nov. 29 meeting almost caused the church to face another delay Tuesday after Fox refused to approve the official minutes of that deliberation, where she voted against the project while the other four commissioners voted to approve it.
Councilman Matt Sullivan, who also voted against the church project, objected to proceeding with the council's Tuesday night vote because the Planning Commission minutes did not have the stamp of approval. He said the reason was because a member of the commission (Fox) believed comments made at the meeting had been omitted. Sullivan also argued that he felt not enough had been done by the church to resolve concerns some of its neighbors in the Pleasanton Village community had over the project. He wanted council action to await that resolution and he also called for environmental and traffic studies in the area, actions that a previous council had waived in its 1989 approval of the master plan for the church site.
But others said it was time to move on and let the parish center and gym be built before construction costs rise again.
"I think the church has done an outstanding job in planning this project," said Councilman Jerry Thorne. "I think there has been sufficient time to consider this application and I can't support delaying this any further."
Councilwoman Cindy McGovern, who urged the council to approve the project, won majority approval from her colleagues as well as the church's agreement on conditions that became part of council's final approval. They are:
* The church is to form a pastoral council to meet regularly with the Pleasanton Village Homeowners Association on any concerns the group has with church activities;
* The city will create a pedestrian crosswalk on Rheem Drive for overflow crowds that might park in lots between Rheem and Santa Rita Road and walk across Rheem to church-related activities;
* The city will conduct noise measurements once the gymnasium is built and in use;
* The church architect will lower the proposed 34-foot-high roof line of the gymnasium "as much as possible" to meet the city's 32-foot height limit in that neighborhood, and,
* A proposal to allow on-street parking along Stoneridge Drive in front of the church property during peak attendance on Sunday nights be denied.
The council's decision went against homeowners Rohit and Sonia Gupta, who live near St. Elizabeth Seton's, and the Pleasanton Village Homeowners Association, which joined them in appealing the Planning Commission's approval of the church project.
The Guptas, in an hour-long appeal to the council, said they were not opposed to the gymnasium and parish hall project, but wanted it built on the east side of the church, where it was originally planned. They said the west side plan will add to traffic congestion on Rheem Drive and their neighborhood.
They also asked that a full environmental study be undertaken, a process that Planning Director Jerry Iserson said would have delayed the project at least another six months to a year.
Mayor Jennifer Hosterman, who voted with the majority to allow the expansion at St. Seton's, questioned why a previous City Council in its 1989 action failed to require an Environmental impact Review when St. Seton's was first planned. however, she agreed to city staff that to impose that action now would require too much of a delay for the current project, which she wanted to see move forward.
"This is not an easy decision for me because I think it's always important to hear from the neighborhoods that will be affected," she said. "But after hearing all of the testimony tonight and going through the staff reports, I think this is going to result in a real addition to the neighborhood."
"This added facility will be a tremendous addition not just to your neighborhood but to our city as a whole," she concluded.