With businesses reopening more fully in the Tri-Valley, the Pleasanton City Council re-examined an existing policy in the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) that aims to spark more restaurant or retail activity in the downtown core.
"This issue that arose with one particular tenant, I think, highlighted some potential need for improvement in our existing policy," community development director Ellen Clark told council members at their June 1 meeting.
Barring a few exceptions, the DSP's "Active Ground Floor Use Overlay" policy prohibits non-active ground-floor uses along Main Street. Last updated in 2019, the policy is intended to encourage an "active pedestrian environment on the ground floor of a commercial building, and includes retail establishments, restaurants, bars and brew pubs, arts-and-crafts studios," according to a city staff report.
A few exceptions to the policy were carved out for tenant spaces "subject to an extended vacancy of these spaces" and purpose-built bank buildings, the latter which Clark said there was concern "that it really might be too much of a hardship for some of those bank building owners who perhaps had invested in these purpose-built buildings that are difficult to convert to other types because of the way they're constructed."
The policy analysis was sparked after an application from Iron Horse Real Estate to open for business in a ground-floor space at 550 Main St. was denied in December based on "insufficient evidence" that the retail component of the business would satisfy requirements for the city. That decision was appealed to the Planning Commission in February.
The commission concluded "that the front portion ... of the business would be dedicated to retail sales, and provided additional supporting information to demonstrate that the use would be a bona fide retail business." After the appeal was successful, planning commissioners asked the council to "consider the policies for active ground-floor uses."
According to staff, the first 25% of a first-floor tenant space "measured perpendicular to the facade fronting a designated active street must be dedicated to an active use" to ensure businesses locate their active uses at the front, where they're more visible from the street, and "represent more than a 'token' amount."
A couple of "major changes" were suggested, including limiting any non-active component such as subleased professional office space or personal services "to occupy a more minor amount of the tenant space," with active use occupying at least 60% of the square footage of the tenant space, compared to the 25% currently allowed.
The second policy adjustment would locate non-active uses "in the rear of the tenant space or otherwise be located so as to not be prominent or visible from the street."
The council could also diverge from staff recommendation and "opt to specify a different balance of active and non-active uses that may be allowed, or disallow any non-active component within a ground-floor space altogether unless approved through another type of exception."
During the public hearing last week, Pleasanton Downtown Association Board President Terri Terry said, "We just want to make 100% sure that the business that is going to go into the active ground-floor use overlay is 100% retail or 100% a restaurant," in order to avoid any "confusion."
Terry explained the PDA wants to "continue to grow more shops, more businesses, more retail, everything, and we're doing a good job about bringing in a lot of these new businesses but we need more."
"The less space that we have, that has been eaten up by banks and real estate offices, it really hurts our mission," Terry said. "The way we're trying to keep it right now is that commercial space needs to be available and avidly sought after retail or restaurants for at least six months, and once that has happened, then they're free to go ahead and put in whatever they like."
Commercial space could be inactive for a period of up to six months, "but in hopes that we can actively go after the proper kinds of stores that we would like to have down here," Terry added.
Vice Mayor Julie Testa called it "troubling to see all of those vacancies" in the city's commercial core.
"If the PDA is ... asking for a greater percentage of greater use, is what they think would create that active vitality, I would support that," Testa said.
Staff is expected to develop and return with a draft policy for adoption at a later date, and will consult with stakeholder groups like the PDA and Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce as part of the ongoing process.