Council talks downtown, Chabad Center, state housing bills at jam-packed meeting

Trails Master Plan delay, National Victims’ Rights Week, 21-item consent calendar among other items

It was a whirlwind meeting for the Pleasanton City Council this week as city leaders, stakeholders and residents debated several big-ticket items over nearly six hours until the clock ticked past 12:30 a.m.

Lead on the public-interest list Tuesday night were the council approving policy direction in key topic areas for the Downtown Specific Plan update and endorsing a neighborhood compromise for the Chabad Center for Jewish Life expansion.

In the lengthiest discussion, at three hours, city planning officials were looking for council guidance after several recommendations from the Downtown Specific Plan Update Task Force on Feb. 26 differed from members' previous leanings and the draft plan document released in the fall -- and became the center of public debate in recent weeks.

The task force of city leaders, downtown stakeholders and other volunteers is winding down its two-year-plus process to update the policy document that outlines city rules and objectives for commercial, residential and public properties throughout Pleasanton's 307-acre downtown planning area.

The public comments from more than a dozen speakers Tuesday varied generally between task force members and others in support of their recommendations aimed at enhancing downtown vibrancy and viability, versus other residential commenters opposed to a potential surge in housing or three- and four-story buildings in the downtown area.

City officials and task force members also attempted to quell community concerns by reiterating the proposal to date contemplates no ground-floor residential fronting Main Street and no taller maximum heights on Main Street.

The council took it a step further Tuesday, voting unanimously to oppose any ground-floor housing behind commercial properties on Main Street -- something the task force suggested discouraging but not prohibiting.

Council members also voted 4-1, with Councilman Jerry Pentin in dissent, to prohibit ground-floor residential in the new "mixed-use downtown" district, which would apply to the current civic center site and vacant city property across Old Bernal Avenue if voters support relocating the library and city offices to the Bernal Park.

Other close votes, by separate 3-2 margins, focused on maximum height and floor-area ratio (FAR) thresholds for new development in downtown but outside the commercial core area.

The majority supported 46 feet tall, 300% FAR and three stories maximum for the mixed-use downtown and 36 feet tall, 125% FAR and two stories for the mixed-use transitional district. No changes were made to the current commercial core and residential standards.

The other tight debate centered on whether to reassign two properties -- the Shell station parcel at Ray and First streets and the Barone's restaurant site on St. John Street -- to label them as open for possible residential, commercial or mixed-use redevelopment.

The proposed new label, which came after requests from the property owners, would not guarantee future rezoning and any final project application would still require a public development review process and environmental analysis, according to city staff. The move, though, would allow the owners to avoid applying for a specific plan amendment down the line.

Councilwoman Kathy Narum initially voted with Vice Mayor Karla Brown and Councilwoman Julie Testa to oppose the two relabeling but she soon asked to revisit the issue at the next meeting because of the late hour.

With the Barone's and Shell questions still lingering, the task force meeting originally scheduled for next week is expected to be reset for late-May. At that time, the group is set to confirm its recommended draft plan update that will advance to public hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council during the summer.

In other business

* The council culminated nearly a year of public debate over expansion plans for the Chabad Center on Hopyard Road by endorsing an amicable solution developed between Rabbi Raleigh Resnick, the Chabad's spiritual leader, and backyard neighbors Darlene and Michael Miller -- who each separately appealed permit conditions approved by the Planning Commission last June.

The Chabad sought permission to expand its religious activities while also offering a preschool and hosting outdoor events at property the Jewish organization bought in 2017 -- a land-use proposal that drew concerns from neighbors who faced noise and rowdiness problems with the site when it was the Pleasanton Masonic Lodge.

Planning commissioners approved the project on June 27 with permit conditions aimed at finding a balance between the property rights of Chabad and their neighbors, but it was a middle ground neither group ended up particularly happy with initially.

Resnick, in his appeal on behalf of the Chabad, said some of the commission's permit conditions were overly burdensome or infringed on Chabad's religious protections under federal law. The Millers, in their appeal, opposed non-religious outdoor events and argued the city did not adequately analyze The council held a previous public hearing in August but held off on a final decision after learning of an 11th-hour partial compromise attempt between Chabad officials and the Millers -- a proposal that seemed to be falling apart as the two-hour meeting wrapped up that night.

However, when both sides returned with their appeals on Tuesday, they said they had a significant compromise.

The Millers and Resnick said they recently reached consensus on many of the issues they previously had, including a wooden soundwall on the north side of the playground enclosure and moving small group outdoor activities to the opposite side of the exterior, but each side still had several disagreements with aspects of city staff's recommendation.

At the end of the two-hour hearing, the council primarily supported the Planning Commission's approval with several amendments in line with the compromise between the Millers and Chabad and some final concessions Chabad requested for operation of the site, including increasing indoor occupancy to 250 people maximum.

* The council briefly carried on its conversation about how to respond to proposals from regional and state legislators to address the Bay Area's housing shortfall.

That included endorsing a resolution in opposition to Senate Bill 50 unless the legislation is amended. The bill by San Francisco Democrat Sen. Scott Wiener aims to spur rapid housing development by relaxing standards for some residential projects and overriding local zoning regulations near transit corridors and job hubs.

The council also agreed to establish the city's legislative positions on select housing bills resulting from the CASA Compact and asked city staff to track remaining pieces of legislation to determine whether the council should take a formal position in the future.

* The council took time to present two proclamations, one in support of National Victims' Rights Week and the other for Fair Housing Month.

* Even the consent calendar was more crowded than usual, with the council ultimately approving all 21 items listed in a typically routine, all-encompassing vote.

The meaty consent list included second reading of a new contract with unionized city workers, ratifying Mayor Jerry Thorne's appointments to city commissions, rezoning new city-owned property on First Street, the 2019 weed abatement program, resetting Pioneer Cemetery fees and donating a surplus vehicle to Las Positas College.

* Council members postponed review of the proposed Trails Master Plan to a future meeting.

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12 people like this
Posted by Patriots
a resident of Birdland
on Apr 17, 2019 at 9:25 am

Again, I ask the city leadership to make building Costco a priority! It appears that the overwhelming approval by us to build a Pleasanton Costco has received little action by our city council. Why?

2 people like this
Posted by Robert S. Allen
a resident of Livermore
on Apr 17, 2019 at 12:39 pm

Robert S. Allen is a registered user.

Jobs, similar attractions, and parking should be the prime uses of land near transit stations outside the metro core - far more than housing.

A transit user has more options from home to station than from station to destination, including one's private automobile. Station to destination needs to be walkable or have good local transit connections. Ample parking lets homes be much farther - even miles - from a transit station.

As land values rise, surface parking can go into structures to accommodate other uses without razing homes and disrupting communities.

Stress parking, not housing, at BART stations.

4 people like this
Posted by Gina Channell, Publisher
a resident of Downtown
on Apr 17, 2019 at 1:04 pm

Gina Channell, Publisher is a registered user.

@ Patriot,
There was a lawsuit brought by former Councilmember Matt Sullivan: Web Link

Instead of going to court and delaying the project even further than it's already been delayed by referendums and lawsuits, the council decided to redo the EIR. I believe (emphasis on 'believe') the report will be ready in early June.

Until then it's at a standstill.

Like this comment
Posted by John B
a resident of Happy Valley
on Apr 17, 2019 at 7:28 pm

With so many housing bills in the pipeline at Sacramento, I am not sure any one taking a building proposal to City for any thing is a smart move. Some will pass and some will not. Surprisingly, no one talks about how housing can be made affordable to middle class in the range.

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

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