The Pleasanton City Council approved a request from staff to move forward with the planning process for the Stoneridge Shopping Center redevelopment framework on Tuesday.
The framework allows staff to start preparing for mixed-use plans for the mall property including outlines for the proposed 900 to 1,400 affordable housing units that could be developed as part of the 2023-31 Housing Element update.
"I say this is the biggest shift in retail in the city of Pleasanton," Pleasanton Mayor Karla Brown said during the council meeting. "This is major."
Council members also provided input on housing redevelopment plans for part of the Stoneridge Shopping Center site and expressed the need for careful review of traffic and safety impacts to the surrounding neighborhoods.
"I'm concerned that there's nothing drilling in here to make sure we understand the impacts to the neighborhood to the south there -- traffic, schools, the public safety again," said Councilmember Kathy Narum, who lives in the surrounding area.
Council members had included the mall in its 2023-31 Housing Element site list to serve as a location to develop high-density housing units that could be developed if rezoning as contemplated is approved.
The Housing Element is anticipated to be adopted by April or May, giving staff approximately six to eight months to gather community input, outline allowed land-uses and provide initial policy guidance and conceptual planning for the mall property.
Staff will initially focus on the "inner" mall area including the mall buildings and surrounding parking fields. Planning efforts will include gathering background information on the site, understanding all of the opportunities and constraints that exist and looking for inspiration in similar projects that have been developed around the country, according to city officials.
"The expectation is that we will take the information, the guidance from this framework effort, and use that to springboard into a more detailed, specific plan, because there's a lot more that will need to be fleshed out and explored in that process as a second phase effort," said Ellen Clark, the city's community development director.
One main area of concern the council gave input on, apart from wanting to see more traffic impact reports, was wanting to see more discussion on school overcrowding.
Councilmember Julie Testa said she received feedback from residents who were concerned the additional housing will add more students to the already overcrowded school in the area like Lydiksen Elementary School.
Clark said that staff will continue to work with the Pleasanton Unified School District so that they are aware of the situation and that the environmental impact report that is reviewing the Housing Element site list will also review those impacts to the schools.
Councilmember Jack Balch said that he mainly wants staff to look into the traffic impacts of the rezoning project proposed by Simon Property Group, which owns most of the nearly 75-acre parcel. The project, which was part of the last housing cycle plan, would create about 10 acres for high-density housing and one 360-unit project is currently in the review process.
He said with the project recently seeking a density bonus, which would bring the number of units to about 480, traffic could get out of control and it is something staff needs to consider.
Clark said that traffic analysis will look at a range of intersections around the mall to understand those impacts, and broadly feed those into a traffic model that will be brought to the council at a later time.
Council members also said they wanted to see evaluations on where the city could add open space for children to play to design the area into a family friendly, open space.
"Children are staying home, especially during COVID," Brown said. "They're home with their family more than ever before … so let's make it family-friendly."
One of the other key points made by the council was to prioritize public input and make sure that everyone that would be affected in the area is noticed so they can participate in community outreach events that staff will facilitate.
That point was echoed by Dean Wallace, a resident and council candidate who lives across from the mall, who said he has spoken with various neighbors who all support reimagining what the mall will look like, but only if it is done right.
"They want to make sure that it's done right, and I share that desire," Wallace said. "I think there's a lot of anxiety, concern and a bit of confusion about the various different plans that the city is currently considering."
He said there should be more community outreach being done to inform the public about the framework process and what the timeline for the redevelopment will look like. Wallace is currently a candidate running for the City Council District 1 seat, which represents the Stoneridge area.
Another reason staff wanted to start on the framework process and complete it prior to the adoption of the Housing Element was parcel owners in the mall interested in moving forward with specific development proposals in the near future.
Various mall property owners have expressed interest in redeveloping existing vacant retail space in recent years, especially since Sears and Nordstrom left and other parcels like JCPenney have changed ownership.
Jerry Hunt, founder and managing Partner at 300 Venture Group, which just bought JCPenney, spoke at the meeting and said he supported the framework and the emphasis on staff reaching out to the other parcel owners to work together on redevelopment plans.
"The one thing that we wanted to just register is that, while it's wonderful the city has been proactive about this, probably the biggest obstacle to reconcile is that there are more than one owner at the mall," Hunt said. "We would encourage that the process and the framework frontload the involvement of the owners."
He said that is why there should be a big emphasis on mixed use and allowing for flexibility on residential or commercial use expansions.
"I think for the developers involved there's value in … having this as a very pedestrian-friendly, vibrant, mixed use type of place, that's really a destination type of place," Vice Mayor Valerie Arkin said.
The council approved to allocate $176,400 from its general fund contingency to cover the consultant costs of the related contracts for financial analysis, traffic and transportation analysis and urban design and planning costs.
Clark said staff will work within the short timeframe to develop a final framework plan for approval around the same time that the Housing Element is being finalized.
"Planning in Pleasanton tends to stretch out," Clark said. "We're trying to do this in a relatively abbreviated period so that we can get it done and have some, I'll just call them guardrails, on future development. Particularly as we rezone or contemplate rezoning for housing, in particular at the mall."