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City Council approves Sunflower Hill plans, plus financial support

'It's important that with this project we know that our underserved community is no longer invisible,' Pentin says

Sunflower Hill could be in position to begin building Pleasanton's first-ever residential community for adults with special needs by the end of the year after the City Council on Tuesday unanimously endorsed the design plans and signed off on almost $9.4 million in financial support for the project.

The Pleasanton-based nonprofit, in partnership with Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA), plans to construct a two-story apartment building with 31 units -- along with a community center, a central courtyard and other amenities -- adjacent to a new neighborhood planned for the Irby Ranch site. The housing developers set aside a portion of their land for the future Sunflower Hill project.

"I think it's important that with this project we know that our underserved community is no longer invisible," Councilman Jerry Pentin said Tuesday night at the Pleasanton Civic Center.

"We will establish something here that can lead the way for other communities like this to be built," Pentin said. "I hope, as we move forward in this city, we use this as the example for community benefit for any development that comes to the city of Pleasanton, anywhere in the city."

"I'm just thrilled," Councilwoman Kathy Narum said of the project planned for just outside downtown.

"Another thing that I really like about this project is that the location is near a number of things where these kids, adults -- who don't drive -- can walk, from the Concerts in the Park to maybe it might be a little long but the library, to downtown, there's a grocery store, a little shopping center," Narum added. "I just can't express my happiness with the location enough."

Council members also approved of key financial support for the Sunflower Hill project: a $2.25 million loan from the city's lower income housing fund and an allocation of up to about $7.2 million of the city's base allocation of Alameda County Measure A1 housing bond funding, subject to final county approval.

Project proponents plan to apply for state and federal tax credits in the weeks ahead, and if that financing is approved in the summer, construction would be on track to begin by year's end, according to Susan Houghton, president of the Sunflower Hill Board of Directors.

"It's been six long years," Houghton said to the council early on during the half-hour public discussion Tuesday. "We said, as families and parents of individuals with special needs, 'If not us, then who. And if not now, then when.' And you believed in that idea."

"It really is a partnership, and you are to be commended for pushing this forward because this is going to be very unique -- something you're not going to see in the East Bay, let alone in the state or let alone the nation," Houghton added.

The Sunflower Hill project aims to bring the new residential community for special-needs adults to the Irby Ranch property where Stanley Boulevard turns into First Street.

The main apartment building is two stories, U-shaped around an interior courtyard, with one studio unit, 22 one-bedroom units and eight two-bedroom units. The Pleasanton Planning Commission unanimously endorsed the project designs last month.

An onsite SAHA property manager will live in one of the two-bedroom apartments, and the studio will be occupied by a Sunflower Hill staff member as needed to provide support for residents. In all, the complex would feature six rental apartments at 20% of the area median income (AMI), 17 at 50% AMI and six at 60% AMI, according to assistant city manager Brian Dolan.

A 4,811-square-foot community center is proposed to sit across from the apartment building, complete with a multipurpose room, commercial kitchen, fitness room, craft room and administrative offices. The plans also call for a spa lounge area, bocce court, multi-use lawn, group outdoor seating and a convertible sport court.

Sunflower Hill's concept was backed by city officials several years ago, with the special-needs housing proposal serving as a key reason the council approved the 87-house neighborhood at Irby Ranch last year. Some parents of children with special needs told the council at that time they were considering buying one of the houses in that new neighborhood to be closer to the Sunflower Hill site.

The Irby Ranch development plan included dedicating 1.64 acres to the city for affordable housing, and all parties envisioned that project as a Sunflower Hill facility for adults with special needs -- and the nonprofit signed an exclusive negotiating rights agreement with the city for the site.

The current plan sees the city retain ownership of the land and lease it for $1 per year for 99 years to the Sunflower Hill complex. SAHA and Sunflower Hill will operate the housing community, with the two entities serving as 51% (SAHA) to 49% (Sunflower Hill) partners.

Narum said she strongly supported the city retaining ownership of the 1.64-acre parcel.

"So in the unlikely event something should happen to Sunflower Hill, the city will own the land. It won't be going back to the developer, the property owner who is building the houses. We will have the ability to do what we want," she said.

The full project is estimated to cost $19.2 million, with an initial construction estimate of $13 million, according to Houghton.

The council on Tuesday approved a $2.25 million loan from its lower income housing fund to support the project, a total that includes $1 million paid by the Irby Ranch neighborhood developer.

"The offering of a loan instead of a grant is often used in doing affordable housing deals because if it was a grant, there are some tax disadvantages for investors in the project," Dolan told the Weekly. "We will only be paid back if the project operates with a surplus, which could happen but often it isn't much."

The council also signed off on allocating up to $7,195,844 of the city's base allocation of county housing bond money to the Sunflower Hill project.

The city has about $7.75 million left over from its $13.7 million allocation after committing $4.6 million for Kottinger Gardens Phase 2 and almost $1.4 million for its share of bond issuance and other administrative costs. That remaining balance must be allocated to a specific project by the end of 2020, Dolan said.

"We don't see another (qualifying project) on the horizon, and so we're really in a situation here where it's kind of use it or lose it," Dolan told the council. "We feel like this is a great project to support with our share of the funds."

In all Tuesday, council members approved a regulatory agreement, ground lease and loan agreement with promissory note and deed of trust for the financial support of the project.

They also endorsed project plans by beginning the two-step process of signing off on an ordinance to approve Sunflower Hill's development plan. The ordinance, introduced Tuesday night, is scheduled to return for a second reading and final adoption at the next council meeting.

All votes were 4-0, with Councilwoman Karla Brown absent.

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