Planning Commission approves 93-home development, Sunflower Hill projects on Stanley

Reluctant decision now goes to City Council, but when is uncertain

The City Council will decide this fall whether to rezone a 15-acre commercial site on Stanley Boulevard for a 93-home development and an adjoining site to accommodate housing for autistic adults..

The public hearing, yet to be scheduled, will come after a four-hour, somewhat chaotic hearing last Wednesday by the city’s Planning Commission, which approved the project, but reluctantly. Several commissioners said they were opposed to approving the housing part of the rezoning bid without a firm commitment that the project for special needs housing, to be managed by Sunflower Hill, also will be built.

But City Manager Nelson Fialho said the city of Pleasanton will own the land to be used by Sunflower Hill. If the project is never completed, it will be used for other purposes that will benefit the community, including as a public park.

More than 150 supporters of the special needs facility jammed the council chamber urging planners to approve the project.

The site, familiar to passing motorists for years, has been marked by a long-closed family market and a rusting tractor as well as three farm-like homes owned by the Irby, Kaplan and Zia families.

Mike Serpa, the developer, wants to replace that with two- and three-story homes Others spoke about their concerns that as they grow older, they need a facility like Sunflower Hill is proposing to be sure their autistic children will be cared for when they're gone.

The Pleasanton City Council, after hearing pleas earlier this year by Susan Houghton, a founder and director of Sunflower Hill, made finding a suitable site for a special needs housing a top priority of its current work plan.

Serpa asked the city to approve his plan to consolidate and develop the three family properties last year with Sunflower to provide the affordable housing part of his plan. The 93 separate homes would be sold at market rates.

The Irby and Zia properties are located at 3780 Stanley Boulevard and 3988 First Street, with different addresses because First becomes Stanley at the traffic light where Old Stanley splits off to connect to Main Street and downtown Pleasanton. But the Irby, Zia and Kaplan properties are connected.

The Irby and Zia properties were developed as single family compounds around 1887, with homes, barns and agricultural buildings determined to be an historic resource.

The proposed development would include extending Nevada Street from Bernal Avenue along the backside of the proposed homes and then north through the development to connect at Stanley with the junction at Old Stanley. The extension, long a part of the city's street plan, would open another access to Stanley from Bernal.

The proposed development also would include a new multi-use trail along the Arroyo del Valle on the south side of Nevada Street.

Serpa is proposing four home models, including two two-story designs and two with three stories with those approximately 35 feet in height.

Houghton told planners that there are more than 700 special needs individuals in Pleasanton who need housing. She said the units planned as part of the Serpa development will be similar to college dormitories with common areas for recreation, kitchens and dining. One large building would serve as a community center, and the compound would include a swimming pool and other outdoor amenities.

"Most of the adults with special needs who would live here will never marry but they will live together," she said.

Thirty in the crowd addressed the commission Wednesday with only two speakers urging that the housing development be rejected.

“We shouldn’t continue to rezone properties when we don’t need to,” Julie Testa said. “This is (special needs) complex is amazing, but it comes with housing units that our community can’t accommodate at this time.”

“It will mean more school kids, more cars,” said another speaker.

More than 50 emails sent to the commission and city staff also opposed the 93-home project, but except for Testa, they were not at Wednesday’s meeting or did not speak or raise their hands when asked who in the room favored it.

Speakers told commissioners that a special needs facility such as the one Sunflower is proposing is much needed in Pleasanton. They spoke about their concerns that as they grow older, they need a facility like Sunflower Hill is proposing to be sure their autistic children will be cared for when they're gone.

Comments included:

“People need affordable homes like these. With Sunflower Hill as a partner, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Pleasanton.”

“Sunflower Hill will be great for the developmentally ill. It’s important that we take care of them through the years with sustainable housing.”

“Families with special needs children will have a chance to buy into this complex and stay together.”

“This is a very unusual project. It is well thought out and provides for those with special needs.”

“This project is an opportunity for our city. It will allow people with special needs children who are established in our community to stay here. I’m glad to see this is happening in our community of character.”

“This will answer a question from my grandson who has special needs and will soon graduate from Foothill High School, who asked what will I do when I graduate?”

“This is the right time and a wonderful opportunity to allow this.”

“The location is ideal for high density. The area is walkable to downtown. Plus, Sunflower is an innovative concept.”

“This is really a special opportunity. I have a 36-year-old son who is developmentally disabled. I hope you won’t delay this. We're getting old. This is something that would allow him to live close by and give me peace of mind.”

“I have a son 26 years old who could live in the same community with us.”

“I rarely have seen a project that caters to parents and children. It will be a really different niche.”

Planning Commissioners debated the merits of the Serpa /Sunflower Hill projects for more than an hour after the speakers spoke, oftentimes barely audible for the audience and at times argumentative.

After discussions with Gerry Beaudin, community development director; Adam Weinstein, planning manager, and Jennifer Hagan, the city’s associate planner who is managing the two projects through the planning process, commissioners agreed to support the plan, asking that the three city planners convey their concerns to the City Council.

With the council’s agenda already filled in September and only one meeting scheduled in both October and November, Fialho said it’s uncertain for now just when the Serpa /Sunflower Hill projects will be heard by the council.

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6 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of California Reflections
on Aug 15, 2016 at 9:44 am

I agree the special needs housing should be approved. I do not believe though that the term should be used referring to 'autistic adults.' The more appropriate term is adults with autism and/or Aspergers Syndrome. In addition most of this population of special needs people do not have any sort of intellectual disability in any way. Many have social deficits. In addition to refer to this as a mental disability is somewhat surprising. A mental disability to me implies schizophrenia or some sort of psychosis. Autism is instead a developmental disability that people are born with. Some individuals with autism are almost completely indistinguishable from their no disabled peers with intelligence in the superior range.

24 people like this
Posted by local
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Aug 15, 2016 at 11:09 am

Can you say "Bait and Switch"?

The Sunflower Hill project will never be built. They are essentially giving the land to the city so they can build their market rate housing.

The question for the council is, would you approve this housing if the Sunflower Hill project was not part of it? If not, don't approve this unless the Sunflower Hill project is built before the housing. The city is otherwise being scammed like Ponderosa did for the church site and school site as part of their proposal (with the school site later being converted to more housing and now the church being converted to housing).

This city seems to never learn. Signature Properties was able to build Ruby Hill without paying the same school fees as other homes, Signature Properties never built the elementary school, Signature Properties never paid for the realignment of Vineyard Avenue, Ponderosa never had a school on their property, Ponderosa converted the church to houses.

the Sunflower Hills project in Pleasanton will never be built. They are currently working on a project in Livermore. This is a small organization and does not have the ability or capital to run housing in both Livermore and Pleasanton.

If the Council wants this project to go forward, they should require the developer to build the Sunflower Hill housing as part of their approval process and Sunflower Hill being built before people are allowed to move into their new housing. Right now the Sunflower Hill organization is being "used".

1 person likes this
Posted by Julie
a resident of Birdland
on Aug 15, 2016 at 11:17 am

@local - so you say you understand that the City is going to own the Sunflower Hill site but then you say that the city is going to be "scammed" because housing will be built on the city-owned site?

Your two statements are mutually exclusive.

12 people like this
Posted by local
a resident of Vineyard Hills
on Aug 15, 2016 at 12:13 pm

Sorry if I did not make it clear. The city is going to be scammed as 93 houses will be built on the rest of the site, not on the area reserved for Sunflower Hill which the city will own. The developer is using the Sunflower Hill piece of land as the carrot to get their 93 houses approved. IMHO, the Sunflower Hill project will never be built, or will sit as vacant land owned by the City for many, many decades. If it does turn into a public park, which will need to be paid for by the taxpayers, as the city manager said it could, it will be benefiting those 93 houses.

I want the developer on the hook to get the Sunflower Hill project done if they want approval of their 93 houses now.

Forgetting Sunflower Hill for a moment, would you be supporting these 93 homes if the developer donated a small part of their land to the city? I don't know how much land it is but probably available on the website. You have to think of the worst case scenarios and have terms of conditions for them.

Also, does anybody know if the developer will still have to provide below market rate homes in their 93 homes, or are they getting that waived by donating the piece of land to the city which COULD be used for affordable homes?

4 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of Kottinger Ranch
on Aug 15, 2016 at 12:47 pm


I hate to say it, but t sounds like you could be right. This proposal isn't to develop the housing. It's merely to donate the land to the city. I can understand how the developers could use people who need the housing to attend the meeting. But I don't understand why the planning commission couldn't make have seen that the housing was not the proposal they were voting for.

Seems strange, more emotional than reasonable.

As for the general question, what to do with the project land overall, I'm not sure there's much of a choice. It's better residential than commercial. And although the school impact discussion is fair and spot on, and in this case there is enough headroom to allow this to not be rezoned, I can't think of what commercial project we'd get if they didn't redone it.

2 people like this
Posted by Barb
a resident of Downtown
on Aug 15, 2016 at 2:30 pm

As seen on Nextdoor:

The project will still to be heard before the City Council for final action. If you would like to make comments prior to the City Council hearing, Jennifer Hagen will make sure to include them within the report. The Planning Commission anticipates the project being heard by the Council on either September 6th or September 20th.


4 people like this
Posted by sknywench
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Aug 15, 2016 at 3:23 pm

sknywench is a registered user.

I STILL SUPPORT IT and Sunflower Hill is the icing on the cake! We get the Nevada Street extension to disperse traffic around the Stanley & Valley intersection, and the fire trucks get into downtown quicker. We also get the arroyo trail constructed and protection of that habitat corridor. The City ergo the citizens get the important sewer and water connections. And, the houses will appeal to young adult not wanting a big lot, but still want to stay in Pleasanton. Oh, and probably one old house will be saved and re-modeled. Did I mention Sunflower Hill again, or maybe small apartments for our seniors who need some help? And lets not forget the Irby family who have owned the property for five generations!!!

6 people like this
Posted by Common sebse
a resident of Kottinger Ranch
on Aug 15, 2016 at 11:05 pm

That's good for the Irby family. But they'd have the same fortune if the property were developed for commercial as well.

The questions are
1) since they are asking the city for a favor--rezoning is not a right and impacts any neighbor who based their decisions on the prior zoning--is this the right thing for the city, and
2) did the city get enough concessions to support the development.

It sounds like the Sunflowrr Hill is, sadly, a distraction unless it is guaranteed by the developer. If the commission is basing its support on it, then the city had better be sure that the developer must find it somehow. Otherwise it is just a parcel of undeveloped land surrounded by new houses with no actionable plan to develop it.

Personally, I hope they do leave the rusty truck as one old plan had for it. It's the last stretch of land there now that the Vintage has taken over the other lot. At least there will be a Starbucks within driving distance...oh wait. There are four others.

17 people like this
Posted by Jimmy
a resident of Jensen Tract
on Aug 16, 2016 at 6:12 am

Sunflower Hill is the "Beard" to disguise 93 homes that should not be built when they are not needed to meet our state requirement. The approval is for 93 houses that will have negative impacts and not give us credit toward our state requirement which is satified until 2025. There is no guarantee that Sunflower Hill will get built.

Sunflower Hill is a great idea, that is being exploited for the pro-housing agenda to fill council chambers with emotional demands from mama bears. Sunflower Hill is working a better 40 bed project in Livermore, this is 20 bed max. As a start up organization they will not have the resorces to do both. This is another pro-development bait and switch.

Sunflower Hill built independently with affordable housing and HUD credits would be wonderful, this is not.

16 people like this
Posted by Map
a resident of Del Prado
on Aug 16, 2016 at 6:35 am

I'm betting that sunflower hill never gets built unless "WE" end up paying for it and that the only "young" families living in those homes will be renters because as usual there will be investors jumping all over these houses. Having realtors on the planning commission is like having somebody on the city council owning stock in a company they are trying to bring into Pleasanton, one giant conflict of interest!! Stop building all these homes and apartments, what's the rush, quit giving up to the developers it's time for them to pay up if they want to play.

2 people like this
Posted by factchecker
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2016 at 7:21 am

Map, there are NO relators on the Planning Commission and haven't been for a year or so.

8 people like this
Posted by Michael Austin
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Aug 16, 2016 at 7:34 am

Michael Austin is a registered user.

There is a real estate investor on the planning commission.

5 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Aug 16, 2016 at 7:54 am

David is a registered user.

Better to have real estate professionals or investors on a commission making complex public land use recommendations than say for example a retail clerk, nurse, or interior designer. In other words, people who have no experience in the business. That would be like listing your home for sale with a mechanic. Nice thought but not with my property. Just keeping it real. Isnt Councilmember Brown a real estate broker?

21 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Downtown
on Aug 16, 2016 at 9:27 am

I'm sorry do they see how back traffic is down First street every morning. Now with the housing going in on Stanley and Bernal and then this it will just get 10 times
worse. Its a parking lot downtown now trying to get down First or even from the side streets. They need to stop building in downtown. Why can't they just make this a nice park or something for people to enjoy. I won't even mention the drought!!

18 people like this
Posted by voice of reason
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Aug 16, 2016 at 10:25 am

local / Jimmy - you two have it spot-on!

The developer is trying to avoid the real discussion here, which is about adding 93 2 and 3 story new homes with no driveways or yards, and inadequate parking onto a small parcel. They are indeed 'using' Sunflower Hill, who has nothing to lose, but are far from guaranteed to get the required funding to build this site. The developer asked Sunflower Hill stakeholders to flood the meeting room and they dominated the conversation with stories of how great it would be to have this facility (now reduced to legal minimum size per low-income regs) 19-beds. While I'm sure this is a very amazing organization and every little bit helps, such a small size facility will bear a huge per/bed cost and is likely to be difficult to get funded. The developer will laugh all the way to bank if the City approves this (technically per city standard it is 'high density' though developer is calling it medium density) housing project without seeing the much-discussed, and important to Pleasanton, Sunflower Hill project built first. Letting the houses get built (especially at density offered right now) without a direct required tie-in to Sunflower Hill approval will be a failure of the City to do what's best for it's residents.

12 people like this
Posted by MEMBER
a resident of another community
on Aug 16, 2016 at 12:41 pm

Keep "improving" the land,there's almost nothing left of our quaint downtown now ! Every time the right guy with the right kind of money comes up with an idea to build,build,build, that's just what happens. The truth is we are choking on all their ideas now. Traffic everywhere you go now. Ever eat downtown, and inhale all the fumes while you're trying to eat? How about the noise? That's not very enjoyable either. The pleasant, is quickly being taken away in Pleasanton. It seems like only the old P Towners notice this?! The investors come with their money, ruin our town, cash out and leave. They know who they are. They need to take their money and ideas somewhere else. They don't love this town, or they wouldn't do this.

4 people like this
Posted by Farhan
a resident of Amador Estates
on Aug 16, 2016 at 5:01 pm

Can somebody check Major and numbers of counselors have their hang in cookie jar?

8 people like this
Posted by Confused
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2016 at 9:33 pm

Let me see if I got this right....over the last 3-4 years, we have been told multiple times by our City Council that their hands were tied when it came to approving the ~1700 apartments units which will built over the next couple of years. They told us at council meetings that the number may seem high, but they had to approve all these units to satisfy State RHNA requirements. They also mentioned that after the approval, the city had met the requirements up until 2023.

I fail to understand how if the council seemed to be in agreement that they were approving more units than they would of if not mandated by the state, how they could be considering adding 93 units on top of the RHNA requirements.

Not against the proposal in general, and like the Sunflower aspect, but is this really the right time? Shouldn't the council stop 'all' building until we fully understand the impact of all ~1700 units currently completed/soon to be completed.

Traffic in our city is bursting at the seams, why add more at this time?

I guess we will find out which of our current council members stand behind their previous statements regarding only approving the large amount of units due to State RHNA requirements, and now erring on the favor of Pleasanton residents by not going 'above' what the State mandated. And who is erring on the side of Developers.

8 people like this
Posted by local
a resident of Vineyard Hills
on Aug 17, 2016 at 12:29 am

There really should be a halt in rezoning anything (e.g., commercial) into housing.

This council is abusing its power by rezoning properties into housing that is not needed to meet our RHNA numbers. I am beginning to believe that some of the council members were part of the suit requiring Pleasanton to drop our housing cap. I know the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce has been real unhappy with our housing cap so it is not a surprise those in office that have been supported financially by the chamber keep approving housing.

15 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Downtown
on Aug 17, 2016 at 9:56 am

Member is a registered user.

This article states: "More than 50 emails sent to the commission and city staff also opposed the 93-home project, but except for Testa, they were not at Wednesday’s meeting or did not speak or raise their hands when asked who in the room favored it"

As someone who wrote a letter and who tried to attend the meeting, it should be noted that the all seats were filled or "reserved" for others not yet there before the start time of 7 p.m. Several people who wanted to attend the meeting, but did not have seats were not allowed into the room and were asked to sit outside of the door (where there were few seats). As a result, my family, who would've like to speak about our concerns related to re-zoning for high-density housing, the number of houses proposed and strains on traffic left the meeting.

2 people like this
Posted by Lisa
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Aug 18, 2016 at 8:56 am

Lisa is a registered user.

Uh, get you head out of the sand people. California and the Bay Area has a growing population and that means more traffic. Have any of you moved here from another area, or came here within the past twenty years, commute outside of Pleasanton, or have children??? You think Pleasanton is the only place that wont change, Sad if you do. We can get the best development possible, but we still still have more people, cars, and change. No one likes it really but that's reality. Well, the restaurants and services are much better here than 30 yesrs ago!!

6 people like this
Posted by res1
a resident of Birdland
on Aug 18, 2016 at 9:05 am

res1 is a registered user.

Lisa, we don't have to accept it here. Many of us moved to Pleasanton for a specific quality of life and are not going to accept that everything is out of our control. Sort of like voting. If you do not vote, you do not have the right to complain about things. If you do not get involved in your city to make it better, you do not have a right to complain about things. We may be busy and/or lazy but we are ultimately responsible for what we leave behind.

10 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Downtown
on Aug 18, 2016 at 2:20 pm

Member is a registered user.

Lisa - Not everyone's head is in the sand. I am homeowner who moved to Pleasanton in the last year, have lived in other suburban areas with vibrant downtown communities and commute outside of Pleasanton for work. I agree that growth is inevitable, and it can be a wonderful thing. However, I believe that responsible development is the key to any city's economic vitality. I am not against development in Pleasanton, but I am against 93 homes being developed on a street that is already impacted by traffic, recently experienced loss of life at a nearby intersection and is a main artery for commuters in the Tri-Valley. We can't make things worse for current and future residents, commuters and those who would like to enjoy Pleasanton's downtown area without avoidable added congestion.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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