Backing the sentiments of many residents, the Pleasanton Planning Commission recently told the owners of Barone's Restaurant that plans to redevelop the downtown site must include commercial space and cannot be entirely residential.
All five planning commissioners told Joe and Maricela Barone and developer Robson Homes at a March 24 workshop to draft alternate plans that integrate commercial space. The Barones recently announced their well-known restaurant will be closing after more than a quarter of a century in business.
To replace the restaurant, the couple have presented several options for their side-by-side properties at 475 and 493 St. John St., which make up a total 2.3 acres.
One option called for building 10 two-story, single-family homes with seven accessory dwelling units (ADUs); another is to construct nine two-story homes with five ADUs over detached garages as well as a commercial office building and off-street parking.
Both proposals would preserve the two-story home at 492 St. John St., which was built in 1887 and is considered a historic resource by the city.
When the City Council updated Pleasanton's Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) in 2019, the area was designated as commercial, only allowing residential use if some commercial space is included, and the council at that time called an exclusively residential project on the Barone's site "not desirable."
City staff also said they have also received numerous messages about the project from residents, with the majority opposed to building more housing on the site. A survey conducted in 2017 also had similar results.
During the commission's discussion last month, Vice Chair Nancy Allen said some residents she spoke with "were surprised to see this application come forward because it appeared to them that three things were going on."
Allen first noted that the council stated during the DSP update that "there should not be an all-residential project."
"Number two, it appeared to be in conflict with many of the DSP goals and the underlying zoning about a commercial frontage entirely across St. John, and last, it seemed to be in conflict with public input," Allen said.
Allen then asked, "Given these proposals are in direct conflict with the council direction and staff direction ... why are we here tonight?"
Community development director Ellen Clark said, "This workshop process is really intended to give them that direction, very clear direction as to the expectation of the Planning Commission, as to what that appropriate use should be."
"Obviously, this site is somewhat unusual; it's got an existing historic home that's a residential frontage that's to be preserved," Clark added.
Allen called the residential designs brought forward that evening "beautiful," but said a "retail-oriented project" would be more suitable to "enhance our downtown."
Commissioner Matt Gaidos was receptive to building some housing on the site, while Commissioner Brandon Pace called for having viable commercial space and coming up with some "creative" alternatives.
The commission agreed the property fronting St. John should be commercial, with housing located either on the second floor or the backside of the property.
No formal application has been submitted with the city yet, but Mark Robson, president of Robson Homes, told the Weekly in an email that his company is still involved with the project, which he said "will bring high-quality new homes and commercial to the downtown and is consistent with these vetted and approved guidelines and goals."
"Our proposed mixed-use development was carefully guided by the Downtown Specific Plan, and it is consistent with key criteria outlined for the redevelopment of this property," Robson said.
Specifically, Robson mentioned their plans to retain the existing historic home, add onsite parking for both the new homes and commercial space, and provide affordable housing through ADUs. He also said the project "preserves the small-town character of downtown with pre-1942 two-story architecture," and that "new residents and tenants will support the existing commercial space."