The City Council will decide this fall whether to rezone a 15-acre commercial site on Stanley Boulevard for a 93-home development and an adjoining site to accommodate housing for autistic adults..
The public hearing, yet to be scheduled, will come after a four-hour, somewhat chaotic hearing last Wednesday by the city’s Planning Commission, which approved the project, but reluctantly. Several commissioners said they were opposed to approving the housing part of the rezoning bid without a firm commitment that the project for special needs housing, to be managed by Sunflower Hill, also will be built.
But City Manager Nelson Fialho said the city of Pleasanton will own the land to be used by Sunflower Hill. If the project is never completed, it will be used for other purposes that will benefit the community, including as a public park.
More than 150 supporters of the special needs facility jammed the council chamber urging planners to approve the project.
The site, familiar to passing motorists for years, has been marked by a long-closed family market and a rusting tractor as well as three farm-like homes owned by the Irby, Kaplan and Zia families.
Mike Serpa, the developer, wants to replace that with two- and three-story homes Others spoke about their concerns that as they grow older, they need a facility like Sunflower Hill is proposing to be sure their autistic children will be cared for when they're gone.
The Pleasanton City Council, after hearing pleas earlier this year by Susan Houghton, a founder and director of Sunflower Hill, made finding a suitable site for a special needs housing a top priority of its current work plan.
Serpa asked the city to approve his plan to consolidate and develop the three family properties last year with Sunflower to provide the affordable housing part of his plan. The 93 separate homes would be sold at market rates.
The Irby and Zia properties are located at 3780 Stanley Boulevard and 3988 First Street, with different addresses because First becomes Stanley at the traffic light where Old Stanley splits off to connect to Main Street and downtown Pleasanton. But the Irby, Zia and Kaplan properties are connected.
The Irby and Zia properties were developed as single family compounds around 1887, with homes, barns and agricultural buildings determined to be an historic resource.
The proposed development would include extending Nevada Street from Bernal Avenue along the backside of the proposed homes and then north through the development to connect at Stanley with the junction at Old Stanley. The extension, long a part of the city's street plan, would open another access to Stanley from Bernal.
The proposed development also would include a new multi-use trail along the Arroyo del Valle on the south side of Nevada Street.
Serpa is proposing four home models, including two two-story designs and two with three stories with those approximately 35 feet in height.
Houghton told planners that there are more than 700 special needs individuals in Pleasanton who need housing. She said the units planned as part of the Serpa development will be similar to college dormitories with common areas for recreation, kitchens and dining. One large building would serve as a community center, and the compound would include a swimming pool and other outdoor amenities.
"Most of the adults with special needs who would live here will never marry but they will live together," she said.
Thirty in the crowd addressed the commission Wednesday with only two speakers urging that the housing development be rejected.
“We shouldn’t continue to rezone properties when we don’t need to,” Julie Testa said. “This is (special needs) complex is amazing, but it comes with housing units that our community can’t accommodate at this time.”
“It will mean more school kids, more cars,” said another speaker.
More than 50 emails sent to the commission and city staff also opposed the 93-home project, but except for Testa, they were not at Wednesday’s meeting or did not speak or raise their hands when asked who in the room favored it.
Speakers told commissioners that a special needs facility such as the one Sunflower is proposing is much needed in Pleasanton. They spoke about their concerns that as they grow older, they need a facility like Sunflower Hill is proposing to be sure their autistic children will be cared for when they're gone.
“People need affordable homes like these. With Sunflower Hill as a partner, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Pleasanton.”
“Sunflower Hill will be great for the developmentally ill. It’s important that we take care of them through the years with sustainable housing.”
“Families with special needs children will have a chance to buy into this complex and stay together.”
“This is a very unusual project. It is well thought out and provides for those with special needs.”
“This project is an opportunity for our city. It will allow people with special needs children who are established in our community to stay here. I’m glad to see this is happening in our community of character.”
“This will answer a question from my grandson who has special needs and will soon graduate from Foothill High School, who asked what will I do when I graduate?”
“This is the right time and a wonderful opportunity to allow this.”
“The location is ideal for high density. The area is walkable to downtown. Plus, Sunflower is an innovative concept.”
“This is really a special opportunity. I have a 36-year-old son who is developmentally disabled. I hope you won’t delay this. We're getting old. This is something that would allow him to live close by and give me peace of mind.”
“I have a son 26 years old who could live in the same community with us.”
“I rarely have seen a project that caters to parents and children. It will be a really different niche.”
Planning Commissioners debated the merits of the Serpa /Sunflower Hill projects for more than an hour after the speakers spoke, oftentimes barely audible for the audience and at times argumentative.
After discussions with Gerry Beaudin, community development director; Adam Weinstein, planning manager, and Jennifer Hagan, the city’s associate planner who is managing the two projects through the planning process, commissioners agreed to support the plan, asking that the three city planners convey their concerns to the City Council.
With the council’s agenda already filled in September and only one meeting scheduled in both October and November, Fialho said it’s uncertain for now just when the Serpa /Sunflower Hill projects will be heard by the council.