The Pleasanton Planning Commission gave an initial endorsement last week to a proposal for a new residential community for adults with special needs just outside downtown.
Local nonprofit Sunflower Hill seeks to construct a two-story apartment building with 31 units, along with a 5,000-square-foot community center, a central courtyard and other amenities, on a vacant 1.64-acre property adjacent to a new neighborhood planned for the Irby Ranch site where Stanley Boulevard turns into First Street.
"This is a terrific project, and it is entirely exciting for Pleasanton. And the basis of what is being proposed gives us great confidence that this is going to turn out to be the project we all want," Commissioner David Nagler said Wednesday at the Pleasanton Civic Center.
Sunflower Hill officials are working with Satellite Affordable Housing Associates to bring the affordable housing project in Pleasanton to fruition, hoping to address the need for more housing in town for people with special needs.
The initial project design created by the Dahlin Group, a Pleasanton-based architect firm, was presented at a public workshop Wednesday night to allow the Planning Commission and residents a chance to provide early feedback about the project.
The main apartment building is two stories, U-shaped around an interior courtyard, with one studio unit, 22 one-bedroom units and eight two-bedroom units -- giving the complex 39 beds in all. An onsite property manager will live in one of the two-bedroom apartments, and the studio will be occupied by a Sunflower Hill staff member as needed to provide support at the complex.
A single-story community center is proposed across from the apartment building, complete with a multipurpose room, commercial kitchen, fitness room, craft room and administrative offices.
The proposal also calls for a spa lounge area, bocce court, multi-use lawn, group outdoor seating and a convertible sport court.
The design includes 31 onsite parking spots, which city planning staff think should be ample since none of the residents are expected to drive.
The buildings consist of a farmhouse-type architecture inspired by the farm style historically associated with the old ranch site as well as designed to flow well with the architecture planned for the 87 houses in The Homestead at Irby Ranch development being built by Meritage Homes adjacent to the Sunflower Hill complex.
The two projects went hand in hand when the 87-house neighborhood was approved by the Pleasanton City Council earlier this year, with city leaders lauding the Irby Ranch development proposal for setting aside a 1.64-acre portion of the property for the Sunflower Hill project, fronting what will be the future Nevada Street extension.
That land was technically dedicated to the city for affordable housing, but all parties envisioned the project as a Sunflower Hill development for adults with special needs -- and the Pleasanton-based nonprofit signed an exclusive negotiating rights agreement with the city for the site.
And the commissioners largely praised Sunflower Hill's project designs thus far.
Most said they liked the building footprints, variety of amenities and how the Sunflower Hill project felt connected to the planned neighborhood, but they also urged the architect to infuse more creative (but not too costly) design elements onto the street-facing building exteriors to help maintain the neighborhood feel and avoid becoming too institutional-looking.
The Sunflower Hill project will return to the commission for final consideration at a yet-undetermined date. Commission chair Jack Balch recused himself from Wednesday's discussion because his father owns a home 384 feet from the project site.
Sunflower Hill officials hope to have plans approved and funding in place in time to break ground by the end of next year.
In other business
The commission endorsed a proposal from city staff attempting to map the city's so-called southeast hills -- about 1,520 acres east of Happy Valley Road -- in accordance with Measure PP, the 2008 initiative passed by Pleasanton voters to limit new development on hillsides.
The maps produced by city staff, still subject to final council approval, aim to indicate where development could and could not occur under Measure PP's key provisions, which bans grading to construct new commercial structures or residential development of more than 10 homes on hillside slopes 25% or greater, or within 100 vertical feet of a ridgeline.
One problem for projects post-PP is the fact the initiative measure did not define certain terms such as ridgeline, slope or structure, according to city planning manager Adam Weinstein.
So, city officials' effort to map the southeast hills for high-slope and ridgeline areas also involves developing methodology for how the city intends to apply Measure PP provisions in all undeveloped hilly areas of Pleasanton.
Commissioner Nancy Allen lauded the final maps as "really outstanding."
"I thought you did a great job balancing the intent of PP, which is to protect hills while still allowing development at the lower levels," she said.
The southeast hills consist of four large, hilly properties with a history of livestock grazing along with limited development, lots of native vegetation and that serve as a wildlife corridor -- parcels known as the Lund Ranch II, Spotorno Property, Oak Grove Property and Foley Property.
Measure PP's hillside protection provisions were at the center of public debate over development of the Lund Ranch II site, a 43-home project whose fate was ultimately decided by city voters when they passed Measure K in June 2016, allowing the project to move forward.
In the wake of Lund Ranch II debate, the council added southeast hills mapping to its priority list to help settle some of these issues going forward. With housing already approved for Lund, the new mapping methodology covers only the other three properties.
With no general industry standard in place, city officials needed to craft an applicable definition for ridgeline on their own, according to Weinstein. They defined the end of the ridgeline as 200 feet above the valley floor -- from which to apply the 100-vertical-foot PP provision.
For slope, they followed the general standard of rise over run.
The end result was three maps: one showing areas above/below 25% slope, one showing where areas have 100-foot vertical setback from ridgelines, and the final map combining the two to where development could occur under Measure PP.
A vast majority of the mapped area shows land protected from commercial development or projects of 11 or more homes. The land marked as developable under PP provisions would still need to adhere to state environmental law and other state and local regulations, Weinstein noted.
The lone resident speaker criticized the ridgeline definition as overly restrictive, more so than Measure PP intended.
"I think this is an overreach," Angela Ramirez Holmes said. "We should take a more commonsense approach ... I think we can do better."
The commissioners supported city staff's maps, advancing the proposal ahead for City Council consideration -- though asking staff to take another look at terrain consisting of less steep spurs.
* The commission approved a proposal to tear down and rebuild the KFC restaurant on Santa Rita Road in the Valley Plaza Shopping Center, just north of the Valley Avenue intersection.
In creating a building with a more modern KFC-brand appearance, the redesigned site will retain similar building orientation, drive-thru location and parking lot layout, but it will remove outdoor seating and give the restaurant almost 350 square feet more space.
* Commissioners wrapped up by saying goodbye to Weinstein, who was working his final Planning Commission meeting for the city. Pleasanton's planning manager since June 2014, Weinstein is stepping down to take a position in Kirkland, Wash. His successor has not been announced.