The San Ramon Planning Commission recently debated next steps for the former home of Chevron's global headquarters, following its reacquisition by Sunset Development earlier this year.
After announcing the sale of the property over the summer, Chevron opted to maintain a smaller office space elsewhere at Bishop Ranch while proceeding with the sale of the 92-acre property to its former owners.
The Planning Commission's Dec. 6 study session was the first time a tentative vision for the property's future was laid out at a public meeting, with Sunset Development's Alex Mehran Jr. presenting the company's ideas to combine housing, retail and office space in the area, and soliciting feedback from commissioners and the public.
"I agree with the sentiments I often hear that the process whereby developers are required to develop quite detailed plans before presenting to you eliminates valuable opportunities for the creation and implementation of shared ideas, and I hope this session is a good first step in remedying that as we progress into what will be a very important chapter for San Ramon," Mehran said.
Mehran's presentation was intended as a summary of potential plans for the area based on the forecasted needs and wants of new and future residents in the rapidly growing city.
"We have tried to assemble a concise overview of the three main product types we're discussing -- office, retail and housing and our feelings about where those uses and what their future role is at Bishop Ranch," Mehran said.
The concept presented by Mehran that night consists of 1,250 apartments, 1,000 houses and 125,000 square feet of mixed use office and retail space, and a transit center along with a central park and other open spaces.
"For two decades, Bishop Ranch has been morphing into something very different than it was in the 1980s and the 1990s," Mehran said. "The pandemic only opened individual and corporate eyes to what could be possible to allow for more efficiency for the corporation and more happiness for the individual."
Former mayor Bill Clarkson gave his input on the concept in a public comment.
"First off, I want to say this is a great opportunity to create a really vibrant mixed-use neighborhood," Clarkson said. "I think this has all the potential (for) creating truly a destination neighborhood although it should be noted in capital letters the project will anchor the southern portion of the walking district and it will serve as gateway to Inverness Park and the southern part of San Ramon connecting people to the Iron Horse Trail, but also south down to Athan Downs Park."
Clarkson added that the project's proximity to the city's southern neighborhood meant that any plan for redevelopment of the park "should not place any undue burdens on the neighborhoods to the south."
"Currently those neighborhoods enjoy a wide greenbelt area that was put in by Chevron and shepherded by Chevron including walking trails," Clarkson said. "I think one of the important things beside the walking trail behind the homes on Chevron, there should be also a very wide trail going from that through the center of this project to City Center, encouraging people to walk to City Center from that neighborhood."
Commissioners applauded aspects of Mehran's concept for the area, particularly the large number of housing units and emphasis on retail growth that residents and city officials have been calling for as the city continues to expand, while also weighing in with their own visions for the area and encouraging fresh ideas.
"It seems to me the really controlling factor is the proximity to the 680 corridor, the existing retail and the proximity to a lot of medium density housing," Commissioner Corie Edwards said. "This is an excellent opportunity site to see some higher density product being built, and for that reason I would like to see single family housing be the exception not the rule on this site."
"Because it is so close to the freeway and so close to existing retail, this is one of those rare opportunities where I would like to see some higher density development go in, perhaps higher density than anything else that we have," she added.
Edwards also encouraged Sunset Development to seek permanent affordable housing for the area and solutions to the city's affordable housing shortage that go beyond state mandated requirements.
"The thing I don't want to see us do is underutilize this site by building medium-density townhomes, medium-density single-family homes, there is a place for that in San Ramon; I feel very strongly that this is not it. If we're going to have single family homes in that area I would like to see them no less dense than what we've got at the SummerHill project."
Despite agreeing with Clarkson's call to prevent the future project from negatively impacting the neighborhoods to the south of it, Commissioner Rick Marks said that he would also like to see the site leveraged for long-term affordable housing solutions.
"I think there can be a reasonably sized development of middle housing and then I am very much in favor, as you go toward Bollinger, going with the higher density housing and I like the idea of smaller units to try to get to real affordability if we can -- not just what the federal government says is 20% of your income or whatever," Marks said.
Nonetheless, the future redevelopment of the park wasn't set in stone at the study session, with commissioners calling for outside-the-box thinking before formalizing plans that would best leverage the large portion of property in the growing city.
"When I first heard that this property was coming up for sale, my first thought was this would be a really great place for a school, and actually a high school, and to merge that with what is the growing trend to develop what is called middle college, where high school students can blend their high school years with the beginning of their college years," Commissioner Jean Kuznik said.
The overall point, Kuznik said, was to think beyond just retail, housing and office space in redevelopment plans.
"We are in fact early enough in the stages of development to maybe think a little outside just those three boxes, and again, once in a lifetime for the City of San Ramon in this area," Kuznik said.
Commissioner Eric Wallis also emphasized the importance of the property's redevelopment, and its capacity to to be used for a range of fresh ideas
"We do have the opportunity to do something we haven't had before which is actually to take a realistic, holistic view of development in the city both on the residential side and on the nonresidential side," Wallis said.
While he noted that he would like to see the necessary rezoning completed by one year after the city's General Plan update at the end of January, Wallis also encouraged developers to consider additional study sessions before formalizing plans for the property.
"I'm hoping with the variety of input you've received from us tonight that you can go back to the drawing board and at some point in the near or intermediate future say 'We'd like to have another study session; we've thought about what you've talked about, and we have these ideas for what we want to do that we'd like to run by you to see what your thoughts are,'" Wallis said.