After hearing from more than a dozen residents on all sides of the Merritt debate (in favor, against and undecided), the commission ultimately selected the project as its fifth, but lowest-ranked, priority.
Introduced only in concept, with no formal application submitted yet, the latest proposal for the Merritt property calls for constructing a new neighborhood age-restricted for seniors only on the undeveloped acreage on the east side of Foothill Road, south of Muirwood Drive.
Commissioners and city staff were careful to clarify that featuring the Merritt property (or any project) on the priority list wasn't an endorsement of the proposal, but rather an acknowledgment of the importance of allocating city resources to manage the application amid full public review.
The Merritt application would require extra staff time and public review because of aspects such as annexation, Foothill Road renovations and neighborhood design.
The council and city administrators use the priority work plan to guide their budgeting and staffing decisions for each two-year cycle.
Like all city commissions, the planning commissioners were given the chance to make priority recommendations to the council -- and they got the highest count, five maximum.
As the clock approached 11 p.m. Feb. 27, the Planning Commission came to consensus on its list of five, ranked in order starting with most important:
1. Comprehensive housing legislative review, and city policy and regulations update.
2. Monitor and coordinate city's response to the Committee to House the Bay Area's "CASA Compact."
3. Restart work on the East Pleasanton Specific Plan.
4. Stoneridge Shopping Center area planning framework.
5. Merritt property.
The draft work plan from city staff also includes three planning-related council priorities carried over from the 2017-2018 plan: Johnson Drive Economic Development Zone, updating the Downtown Specific Plan and the Lester property development application.
Topics the Planning Commission considered but did not prioritize were the Alameda County Fairgrounds hotel and amphitheater project review, a "big picture" housing strategy, updating the city's rules for public notification and visual renderings on projects, and a proposal to redevelop the Signature Center office park on Hopyard Road into a mixed-use site with housing, offices and a park.
The City Council is scheduled to review the full list of priority recommendations, and hear input from the public, during a workshop next Tuesday (March 12) before voting on the finalized work plan by mid-April.
In other business
* The commission gave mostly positive feedback about initial plans from Simon Property Group to demolish the now-vacant Sears building and parking garage it owns at Stoneridge Shopping Center and replace them with a movie theater, grocery store, a lifestyle health club, an outdoor courtyard, and new retail and restaurants.
Other key components of Simon's proposal include adding back only 78 street-level parking spaces -- resulting in a net reduction of 1,251 spots at the mall, with the loss of the Sears garage -- as well as closing off six of the nine driveway openings onto Stoneridge Mall Road.
Commissioners generally liked the concept, but urged some fine-tuning with regard to architectural elements, traffic circulation and parking.
The discussion was a public workshop for initial review of the plans, with the application due back for full hearing and final consideration later this year.
* The commission endorsed the final draft of the updated Trails Master Plan, recommending its approval to the council.
The updated plan, which has been in the works for a year and a half, focuses policies and long-range planning for the city's off-street trails network.
A handful of residents and mountain bike enthusiasts turned out to the meeting to urge the city to give higher priority to a project to create a separate, narrow mountain bike trail at Augustin Bernal Community Park.
LaVerne Spotorno, whose family owns the Spotorno tract long debated for future development, also spoke, calling on the city to add verbiage to the Trails Master Plan to clearly state that private property eyed for possible future trails is off-limits to the public: "Until future trails are analyzed, approved and built, no public access is implied or allowed."
Commissioners were supportive of making that distinction in the document, but staff wanted time to review verbiage options with the city attorney. Any change would come forward in the final plan brought to the council.
* The commission approved applications from the city to change the land-use designation (to public) and the zoning (to public and institutional) for the property at 4363 and 4377 First St., a commercial site the city acquired Jan. 31 for around $2 million, adjacent to Lions Wayside Park and the Firehouse Arts Center.
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