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Planning Commission, Ponderosa tangle over 27-home rezoning bid

Chairwoman Allen calls builder's actions 'disappointing,' refuses to OK plan

Following an extraordinary public confrontation with executives of one of Pleasanton's largest homebuilders, the head of the city's Planning Commission last week refused to vote to allow Ponderosa Homes to construct 27 homes on a Centerpointe Presbyterian Church site the church needs to sell quickly in its effort to relocate.

At a public hearing Aug. 12, Planning Commission chairwoman Nancy Allen said she was "disappointed" with Ponderosa's approach to gaining rezoning approvals, citing staff reports where the builder rejected "suggestions" by the city's staff planners to reduce the number of home sites,

She said the developer also did not provide a substantial amenity in return for its request to increase density above the standard, as required of all developers.

The Rev. Mike Barris, pastor of Centerpointe, said the church is in the process of acquiring another site and needs to sell part of the six acres it now occupies to Ponderosa by next month to finance the deal.

While acknowledging the urgency of the rezoning bid, Allen told Ponderosa's executives Jeff Schroeder and Pam Hardy that they should take their plan for the new homes back to staff for reconsideration. If Ponderosa had brought its proposal before the Planning omission earlier in an informal workshop discussion, her issues of concern might have been resolved in time to meet the church's financing deadline.

She was joined in abstaining from voting on a motion to approve the plan at the end of a 3-1/2-hour public hearing by fellow planning commissioner David Nagler, who said that allowing Ponderosa to proceed could compromise the integrity of the commission in future considerations of rezoning applications.

Even so, three other commissioners – Gina Piper, Herb Ritter and Greg O'Connor – voted to approve the Ponderosa plan, providing the 3-vote majority needed to send the petition to the City Council next month for a final decision.

Allen wasn't the only one disappointed. Hardy, a member of the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce board of directors who appears frequently before both the Planning Commission and City Council on city building issues, said she was disappointed by the views voiced by Allen and Nagler.

Schroeder, who is senior vice president for Land Acquisition and Planning at Ponderosa, agreed.

"We have worked with city staff extensively for over a year on all aspects of this plan," he told Allen. "We're not making a huge profit on this. We're trying to help the church which is in a contract to purchase another piece of property."

Schroeder added that to meet Allen's and city staff's demand, Ponderosa would have to reduce its plan by so many homes that it would be unprofitable to proceed. Without the commission's approval of the current land use plan, he suggested the company's deal with Centerpointe could be scuttled.

But Allen held her ground.

"I still want to see the number of homes reduced and I'm still concerned about the sidewalk plans," she said."I want more trees, more parking."

Besides selling part of its site to Ponderosa, Centerpointe also plans to sell its former Sunday school and preschool building to Montessori West, which is a private school operator. Montessori already is using two of the church buildings with a license to enroll 120 children. Once it acquires the property, it plans to add a third building and expand the school operation to a total of 294 preschool and kindergarten-through-sixth grade students.

Earlier, the city approved construction of a three-story, 13,968 square foot building, which Montessori plans to complete for its new elementary school.

Montesorri's plan is to build this structure at two-stories instead of the three stories already approved.

Ponderosa executives appeared stunned by the harsh comments of Allen and Nagler, much of them resulting from a report by City Staff planners Jenny Soo and Adam Weinstein. Schroeder, a longtime friend of the Presbyterian church since it first acquired the prestigious site at the corner of Valley Avenue and Busch Road from Ponderosa in 2006, agreed to buy back the portion of the property not committed to Montessori so that the church would have funds to move to a less expensive meeting place.

As part of the deal, the church's large dirigible-shaped sprung structure will be removed to make way for the new homes.

Schroeder pointed out that the portion now planned for 27 homes is located next to three-story apartment buildings in a separate Ponderosa-developed parcel called The Gardens. It also borders on the busy four-lane Valley Avenue thoroughfare, next to the Iron Horse Trail which Ponderosa helped finance and build, and is a site that is probably more suited for more apartments, except that market has dried up.

Because the full six-acre site was planned for Centerpointe at a time when its congregation was growing, its configuration today with the already-built school and parking lots made it a more difficult area to convert for residential use.

Even though Ponderosa and city staff conferred over the plans, Weinstein, Planning Department manager, said in the report he presented to Allen and other commissioners Wednesday that there wasn't much agreement on several issues.

Weinstein said one of the 27 homes is planned with only an eight-foot-deep rear yard, which he believes is too shallow. He believes Ponderosa's proposed streetscape would "benefit" from a 5-foot-wide landscape area between sidewalks and the backs of curbs. He said the entire proposed site layout "while functionally acceptable," is not optimal. He added that the proposed floor area ratios ranging from 33-69% should be lowered to a 56% maximum.

"But the applicant declined to incorporate this suggestion," Weinstein said.

Much of Wednesday night's discussion centered on the overall plan for the church site. Without tearing down the school buildings and digging up the several parking lots, commissioners agreed that there probably wasn't a way now to create a comprehensive and better plan.

The issue goes back to the city's 1996 General Plan for developing the old pumpkin patch that is now mostly occupied by the Ironwood community, a Ponderosa development. In 2002, the City Council approved the Ironwood plan that now includes 193 homes, 172 senior apartment units, another 110 homes for residents 55 and older in a gated community, a 2-1/2 acre public park and the 6-acre church site.

In 2006, the plan was approved for Centerpointe church, a new name the Presbyterian Church of Pleasanton adopted in moving from its former site at 4300 Mirador Drive, which is now the home of St. Mary & St. John Coptic Orthodox Church.

The Presbyterian church originally was the first church built in Pleasanton at 118 Neal St., a church building that is still standing and is now the Lighthouse Baptist Church.

When it moved from Mirador and became Centerpointe, the city-approved master plan for this site new Presbyterian complex at Valley and Busch included a 900-seat, three-story sanctuary (about 24,100 square feet), a 3-story youth center/gymnasium (about 28,700 square feet), a one-story preschool building (constructed), a three-story classroom buildings (20,300 square feet including the existing building) and a two-story worship and education center (8,200 square feet) for a total of 81,410 square feet when completed

The sprung structure was brought in at that time to accommodate the congregation until the buildings could be completed..

The residential plan contains fewer square feet, eliminates two large three-story structures and finishes the neighborhood with similar single-family homes.

As pointed out at Wednesday night's Planning Commission meeting, Centerpointe and the Presbyterians will soon be moving to another site and a different congregational growth plan.

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