The Pleasanton Planning Commission voted 3-2 last week to approve a plan by Ponderosa Homes to buy and tear down the financially troubled Evangelical Free Church of Pleasanton in the Valley Trails community and replace it with 36 new single-family homes on the 9-acre site.
Ponderosa also will build a clubhouse in its new development and make improvements at the adjacent 6.1-acre Valley Trails neighborhood park, including a new tot-lot and landscape improvements with groundcover to promote water conservation.
Although part of the housing development with control by the new neighborhood's home owners' association, the clubhouse will be available to all the residents in the 498-home Valley Trails community 12 times annually.
Though planning commissioners, city staff and most of those in the crowded City Council chamber at the April 12 public hearing endorsed the Ponderosa development, concerns over the proposed public restroom dominated much of the four-hour-long meeting.
In the end, commissioners Nancy Allen and Greg O'Connor voted against the entire Ponderosa development plan, mainly because of their opposition to the restroom.
"I don't think taxpayers should be burdened with maintaining restrooms in neighborhood parks," Allen said. "I'm concerned about the costs over the years, as well as with security and graffiti."
However, commissioners Jack Balch, David Nagler and Herb Ritter, a majority, backed the project, including the restroom.
The commissioners also agreed to move the project forward to the council even though a member of the Pleasanton school board suggested April 11 that the Valley Trails site might be suitable for a 10th elementary school. Funds for that school are contained in a bond voters approved last November.
Gerry Beaudin, the city's community development director, and planning manager Adam Weinstein, in documents prepared for the Planning Commission, said the school district once owned the site, but sold it years ago after determining it wasn't needed.
The restroom issue centers on city policy limiting costly public restrooms that also have high annual maintenance costs to "community" parks that are at least 10 acres in size. These include Bernal, Lions Wayside, Creekside and Delucchi Parks, as well as Stoneridge Creek Neighborhood Park, which because of its tennis courts, also has a public restroom.
The city's 33 "neighborhood" parks, including Valley Trails, are typically 5-6 acres in size and are considered within convenient walking distance of homes to serve the needs of its users. Most of them also lack on-site parking, lighted sports facilities or community rooms.
What makes the Valley Trails Park restroom proposal attractive is Ponderosa's agreement to contribute the land, build it and give it to the city free-of-charge, and to contribute $5,000 toward maintenance costs for the next five years.
Jeff Schroeder, Ponderosa's senior vice president, told commissioners that the restroom was a priority mentioned by Valley Trails homeowners when he met with them at two meetings to describe his 36-home proposal.
It was also favored by all the 21 speakers at the commission's public hearing, except for former Councilwoman Kay Ayala, who said, "It will not be a community-wide benefit."
Most of the speakers also spoke against building an elementary school on the site.
City Manager Nelson Fialho said the Planning Commission's Valley Trails approval will go to the City Council for a final decision in May, although a specific date has yet to be chosen.