A years-long effort to update the existing specific plan for downtown Pleasanton ended with a bit of a thud last week when the task force charged with spearheading the assignment voted 4-3 to reject the City Council's review and direction on several key policy issues to further restrict residential development and height in the area -- in favor of its own draft plan instead.
Despite these differences, the recommendations for updating the specific plan will go to the city's Planning Commission for a public hearing on June 26 along with suggested amendments related to the downtown district to the General Plan, Downtown Design Guidelines and the Pleasanton Municipal Code.
Then the City Council is expected to make the final decision on the new Downtown Specific Plan in late August or September.
The Downtown Specific Plan Update Task Force was formed by the council in 2016. The proposed draft in large part reflects the collective work of its 10 members in conjunction with a number of public outreach meetings and substantive reports to other municipal committees. The volunteer task force held a series of public hearings over 2-1/2 years, with the May 28 meeting marking its 18th and final.
"Candidly, there is agreement on 98% of the document," said Gerry Beaudin, the city's community development director, in referring to the final work of the task force. "Both the task force's recommendations and the council's direction will help inform the next phase of public review through the Planning Commission and City Council process in the coming months."
The goal is to wrap up the plan before 2020, an election year.
On May 28, some members of the task force criticized the council's "weighing in" on their work, especially after a Feb. 26 meeting when representatives of the Pleasanton Downtown Association, the Chamber of Commerce and developers pressed for more housing downtown.
Those task force members felt like they had been over-stepped. Whether or not they fully agreed with the council, they disagreed with how it was done.
During meetings on April 16 and May 7, the council clawed back on some of the task force decisions made at the February meeting that were related to development standards, such as maximum height and square footage restrictions.
The council said that residential units could be built on top of downtown commercial buildings, but not behind them, as had been suggested. It also stipulated that these new units would have to be minimally visible from Main Street and would be required to have parking on the site.
The council also told the task force that it would have to limit new buildings on the east side of Peters Street to 36 feet in height with a two-story limit. Under those guidelines, which the council is likely to approve this summer, the three-story buildings just constructed on Peters between St. Mary and St. John streets would not be allowed
After the council's comments, Steve Baker, a task force member, said: "Since the council weighed in, we're now being asked to rubber-stamp the council's plan, not ours. I'm not comfortable with that."
"We discussed the plan intensely at our first 16 meetings," member Jan Batcheller said, "and then on the 17th meeting, major changes were made by the City Council."
Said another task force member, Jim Merryman: "It's not clear to me what this downtown plan will produce over time. I don't think we've been able to deliver what the people want. We haven't done any economic analysis of what this will do. Will it help our businesses, our need for office space? We don't know."
"I don't think that we are supporting the people who want to invest in our downtown," he added.
Those members joined Herb Ritter, chairman of the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce and a city planning commissioner, in voting to endorse the task force's February recommendations instead of the council-supported plan. Only seven of 10 voting members attended the May 28 meeting.
Still, the three task force members who voted in favor of the council-directed plan -- Mayor Jerry Thorne, Councilwoman Kathy Narum and Planning Commissioner Justin Brown -- praised the work of other task force members and the city's planning staff.
They said the new plan achieves the purpose of updating the land development guide, hopefully through the year 2040. It meets a key goal in preserving the character and development traditions of the downtown and retaining its small-town scale and physical characteristics.
"When we talk about downtown Pleasanton, we usually think of Main Street," explained Beaudin, who, with planning manager Ellen Clark, is the key city staff leader on updating the specific plan. "Remember, this plan also includes side streets and more. It's a 319-acre area, covering 60 city blocks. There are about 1,270 homes in the area, and they're not to be forgotten in this process."
In wrapping up their work, task force members also finalized site development recommendations for the current city hall, civic center, police headquarters and public library should voters authorize moving those facilities to new buildings on Bernal Community Park.
The task force also recommended that the Planning Commission consider two-story apartments on the Shell station parcel at Ray and First streets. The station's lease is expiring and the property owners will seek a zoning change in a few months.
A similar request by Barone's Restaurant on St. John Street was modified by the council to put the property in a mixed-use transitional zone, allowing restaurant owner Joe Barone to potentially redevelop the land he owns around the restaurant with homes or apartments, but he would have to continue keep the current commercial property as a restaurant or another business. But the task force recommendation would leave the door open for 100% residential at the site.
Both plan drafts -- the task force-supported version and the council-recommended -- will be presented for discussion during the upcoming public hearings.
Once the plan receives a favorable recommendation approved by the Planning Commission, and is adopted by the City Council, the 2002 Downtown Specific Plan will be superseded and the new plan will reflect the discussion, outreach and work that has occurred over the past 2-1/2 years.
"The many hours of research and meetings the task force and city planning staff and hundreds of public comments show just how important Pleasanton's downtown is to our community," said Narum, also a task force member. "People care."
She added: "If we've learned anything in this 2-1/2-year process, it's that we know how much residents value the unique downtown in our community and the importance of keeping the small-town feel it has. They want to keep the unique look of our downtown. I think we've done that -- the new Downtown Specific Plan and its guidelines will keep our downtown unique."
Members of the task force not already named in this article were Laura Olson, Dirk Christiansen and Teri Pohl. Alternates on the task force were Councilman Jerry Pentin, Nancy Allen, Harpreet Singh Judge and Sylvia Tian.