By Tim Hunt
An interminable meeting with the right resultUploaded: Aug 15, 2016
Pleasanton Planning Commissioners spent an agonizing number of hours last week nit picking an excellent development proposal for the 15 acres of land between the arroyo and existing development along Stanley Boulevard.
The lynch pin of the project was the contribution of 1.35 acres and $1 million to the city of Pleasanton so it can partner with the Sunflower Hill organization to build housing and a community for developmentally disabled adults. As commissioners heard from a number of parents, there are services available primarily through the school system until their children turn 22—services then are limited and there’s no daily program or residential program.
Their understandable concern is how to ensure safe and meaningful lives for their adult children, particularly after they die. Sunflower Hill already is working on housing in Livermore and has partnered with developer Mike Serpa on this project. The need is substantial—1,600 developmentally disabled adults live in Livermore and Pleasanton, most with their parents.
The Sunflower site will be surrounded by two-story homes, which also will run along Stanley Boulevard. The goal is a neighborhood with the Sunflower site integrated with the surrounding homes.
Another unique aspect of this project is the large footprints of the homes on the lots. In contrast to typical single-family home subdivisions, there will be no driveways and backyards that are quite small. They will be ideal for empty nesters who do not want to garden (we have a good friend who moved into a similar development in Hacienda Business Park specifically because they did not want to care for a yard—all they needed was a patio for the BBQ.)
They also could fit millennials, although they typically value urban environments and that’s not Pleasanton.
Serpa would not be pinned down on potential pricing, but did observe that if they were marketing the homes today, they would start in the $800k range—that about $200k less than the median sales price in Pleasanton.
Assuming the project moves forward, this will be a lottery project.
The Wednesday meeting last week seemed interminable—the Irby Ranch item was first on the agenda and the public comment (limited to 2 minutes per speaker) did not start until after 8 p.m. as some commissioners questioned the staff and the developer ad nauseum. The public comment took almost two hours (I was the second-to-the-last speaker at just before 10 p.m.)
The emails to the commissioners contained plenty of comments against (primarily about traffic impacts) that presumably were ginned up by Pleasantonvoters.com, but only two people spoke against the project at the public hearing. The rest of the many, many speakers favored the project. It’s really easy to bang out an email, but sitting through a Pleasanton meeting demonstrates commitment.
Notably, the city’s traffic engineer, Mike Tessano, said that the only project on that site with less traffic impact would be warehouses. There is no demand or market for warehouse space near downtown. The land is way too valuable.
A few parents, who were long-time residents, spoke passionately about Pleasanton as a “city of planned progress.” That was true until the mid-1900s when it started to transition.
Now, it is “planned process”—no progress is necessary as long as the process drags on.
That “process” coupled with the commissioners’ questions during the first portion of the meeting caused Susan Houghton, president of Sunflower Hill, to skip her planned PowerPoint presentation and simply speak from her heart about whether Pleasanton was truly a “community of character.” She correctly called the commissioners out.
This project was a close to a no-brainer as you can find, yet the commissioners, after meeting for three hours, took another 90 minutes (that’s right, it was a 4 1/2 -hour meeting) before finally approving the project unanimously. Really.
It now moves to the City Council on Sept. 6. If it is approved—as would be expected given the council already has declared Sunflower Hill its preferred partner—then the organization would hope to have entitlements before the end of year so it can apply for tax-credit financing in March of 2017. If all goes well, construction could begin in early 2018.
Incidentally, Sunflower also is pursuing a 45-unit project in Livermore on east First Street across from the Safeway shopping center. It’s worth comparing the public process.