The Pleasanton City Council has signed off on updates to the Downtown Specific Plan and associated policy documents with city regulations and objectives for the downtown business district and surrounding neighborhoods for now and into the future.
The three-hour-plus hearing on the wide-ranging legislative package in the council chamber Tuesday night, like much of the public debate throughout the DSP process, focused on a handful of specific issues such as maximum building height, new housing, balancing competing priorities, parking and the future of the current Civic Center site.
The council majority mainly sided with the positions on points of contention that they supported when they held initial discussions on key DSP topics in the spring -- positions that in the end were largely endorsed by the Planning Commission but differed from recommendations of the DSP Update Task Force.
Those included stricter development standards for projects throughout the 307-acre DSP area such as maintaining the current building height and story maximums for the downtown commercial district and capping new building limits at two stories in the residential and mixed-use transitional zones and three stories in the new mixed-use downtown zone.
With downtown building height still a major talking point in the community, Mayor Jerry Thorne opened the council comments attempting to dispute misinformation about the proposed regulations.
"There has been some confusion out there about four-story buildings ... Is there any four-story buildings anywhere in this plan?" the mayor asked of city staff, knowing "no" was the answer. "Thank you."
After hearing reports from city officials and nearly an hour of comments from citizen speakers on all sides of the issues, the council voted 4-0 to approve resolutions for the environmental clearances, updated DSP and associated policy documents as well as introduce ordinances for zoning designation changes and municipal code updates.
Councilwoman Julie Testa recused herself from the discussion Tuesday after the state's Fair Political Practices Commission concluded earlier this month that she lives too close to the DSP boundary.
The ordinances will return to the council for second reading and final adoption next month.
The DSP package is aimed at updating city regulations and goals for the commercial, residential and publicly owned properties throughout the downtown planning area. Some of the revisions are designed to better align city regulations and priorities across policy documents while others are new proposals with an eye on the short- and long-term futures of downtown, according to city officials.
The first comprehensive update to the DSP since 2002, the legislative package is the outcome of the work by city staff, consultants and the task force of city leaders, downtown stakeholders and other volunteers over 18 public meetings, along with incorporating input from the public, since 2017.
As the DSP process winded down, the public debate took three sharp turns, starting in February when the task force majority shifted gears from members' previous leanings on several design and zoning items compared to the initial draft DSP released last November.
The council chimed in, at city staff's request, to give direction on those points in April and May, but then the task force voted 4-3 at its final meeting May 28 to reject the council's direction and recommend its Feb. 26 plan instead.
The differing recommendations featured agreement on a significant bulk of proposed policies and guidelines, but the task force majority preferred certain development standards be less stringent than the council majority had endorsed, among several other topics.
Presented with both options, the Planning Commission weighed in on the package as a whole in June, with the majority largely siding with the council over the task force on pending points.
Commissioners also went out of their way to argue the DSP update did not go far enough in addressing parking availability in downtown -- a major concern for many business owners, residents and patrons.
That set the stage for the legislative package going before the council on Tuesday night.
The public hearing, which ended just after 10:15 p.m., featured a staff report that yielded dozens of questions from the council, comments from 19 citizen speakers and individual council votes on each pending point of contention before sweeping votes on the entire DSP package.
Resident comments spanned the spectrum, from criticisms of specific aspects of the plan to opposing the DSP updates on the whole to support offered overall or for certain items.
"To say I'm disappointed in this process is an understatement," Jan Batcheller, a task force member, said to open public comment. "City staff and their consultants controlled the agenda and the entire process."
"It seems to me that we should be more concerned about the character of buildings than the height, within reason," she added. "In addition, we discuss height in feet above the ground and not number of stories."
Former mayor Tom Pico also called the DSP process "flawed" and promised "there's going to be a war" if city officials try to move the city offices to Bernal Park property.
"(The plan) is built on a sand foundation that says we're going to move the city hall to the Bernal property. And that will never happen," Pico said. "The citizens will not approve an office complex on the Bernal Park. That wasn't our vision."
"You are on the way tonight to provide specific guidelines ... that are clear and balanced, both to preserve the charm of downtown and help improve its commercial and economic vitality," said Kelly Cousins, president of the slow-growth group PleasantonVoters.com.
"We, over time, have ruined our downtown in the last couple of years," Margo Tarver added. "We shouldn't have three-story buildings out to the perimeter of the property, over-towering a small one-story restaurant. It's just beyond my comprehension what has happened here, and I don't want it to continue."
The debate then returned to council members for straw votes on specific line items in the plan, a combination of affirming their original guidance from the spring and deciding on new issues that arose in the final weeks.
Key development standards for new projects in the four zoning districts were confirmed in line with earlier council leanings. Vice Mayor Karla Brown dissented.
The council approved maintaining the existing policy for the downtown commercial district -- 40-foot-tall and 300% floor-area ratio (FAR) maximums with two stories encouraged but a three-story maximum.
The limits in the residential district are 30 feet tall with two stories maximum; a 36-foot-tall, two-story maximum with 125% FAR for the new mixed-use transitional zone; and 46 feet with three stories maximum and 300% FAR for the new mixed-use downtown district -- a zone that would apply only 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 and creating a "Town Square" with new development on that downtown site.
The council unanimously affirmed its preferred ban on ground-floor residential on commercial properties fronting Main Street and in the mixed-use downtown zone.
The task force majority had concurred on building heights as measured in feet but did not support story limits, and they suggested discouraging but not prohibiting ground-floor residential on Main and side streets.
On parking, the council voiced support for a working group already meeting among the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce and Pleasanton Downtown Association (PDA) to find parking supply solutions, but council members also stood behind the city's downtown parking strategic plan.
The council also confirmed the debate 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 and make it clear in city documents that those possible redevelopments are on the table.
The council approved a residential overlay for the Shell site, including the direction for staff to consider a planned-unit development (PUD) request for a residential building with two stories of units above grade-level parking stalls if all is not taller than 30 feet. Brown dissented.
For the Barone's property, the majority still opposed a residential overlay but supported a "mixed-use transitional" overlay label. Brown dissented.
On the task force's call for a "right to do business" ordinance, which the council majority did not support, they opted to add language to the DSP at the PDA's request to say the city considers downtown businesses that follow the rules are not a nuisance.
On new residential development in the commercial or mixed-use transitional districts, the council sided with the task force and commission to allow a less-intensive design review process for projects that meet all city policies and downtown guidelines, rather than always requiring a more-involved PUD process. Councilwoman Kathy Narum dissented.
At Narum's urging, the council added to the DSP package a prohibition on new tobacco retailers in the downtown area as well as language to the civic center concept that the potential project subject to voter support could be done in phases, with a first phase seeing the library shift to Bernal and city hall offices move into the current library building.