By Tim Hunt
Way past time to resume planning East PleasantonUploaded: Feb 5, 2020
Four years after halting work on the East Pleasanton Specific Plan during the drought, the City Council is considering the next step in with a new lead developer, Pleasanton-based Ponderosa Homes.
Back in March 2019 when the council established its priorities for the next two fiscal years, four members selected restarting the East Pleasanton Specific Plan as the top priority. The council heard a staff report and held a public hearing at its first November meeting and was scheduled to vote in late November before it was pulled from the agenda. It is expected to be heard on Feb. 18. This essentially is a vote on the process to follow the earlier priority vote.
Ponderosa has an option on the 50-acre Kiewit property at the corner of Busch Road and Valley Avenue and has an agreement with USL, the other major private landowner, to work on the overall plan. Ponderosa has developed many homes in Pleasanton, but the East Pleasanton plan likely will be the most challenging and complicated to date.
Developing the 1,100 acres at the eastern gateway to Pleasanton will require major infrastructure improvements as well as relocating the Pleasanton Garbage Co. transfer station to east of El Charro Road. That will need to be a turn-key project because the station operates seven days a week. So, at the minimum, Busch Road will be extended to the new site.
In addition, El Charro, which currently is a private road, will need to become a public road and connected to Stanley Boulevard with an undercrossing for the Union Pacific railroad tracks. Stanley Boulevard will need to be lowered at the interchange because of the limited land available just like the current undercrossing at Valley and Stanley is lowered. Just the interchange is estimated to cost $25 million.
The El Charro connection is key for regional traffic as well as traffic through Pleasanton on Santa Rita Road and Valley Avenue. Once it’s completed, then eastbound traffic headed for Livermore will have a better option to get to Stanley.
There are two key reasons for moving ahead with planning that will take at least two years:
1. The pressure from the state Legislature to build more housing, particularly affordable housing, will only increase. State lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom have recognized the huge statewide shortfall in housing—particularly in coastal counties—and are pushing various solutions that would reduce local control.
2. About 100 acres of the land currently is zoned for heavy industrial uses and landowners could submit an application that the city would have little flexibility to deny. With online shopping exploding, there’s lots of interest in industrial facilities located close to consumers for the “last mile delivery.” The city staff report notes that four different proposals have been floated in the last couple of years, none of which was supported by the staff.
I sat down with Jeff Schroeder, Ponderosa’s vice-president and point man on this project and Mark Sweeney, a one-time partner in Hacienda Business Park, who has partnered with Ponderosa on a few key projects. Simply put, they believe planning for East Pleasanton and developing a solid plan suitable to Pleasanton is critical, because there’s not a viable no development option.
If that’s the overall plan doesn’t move forward, then the city will likely end up with a 200-acre industrial project plus another 50 acres at Kiewitt.
Ponderosa envisions about 1,900 homes, including about 500 that will be affordable by design. They are working on plans to build some specifically for special needs adults such as those served by Sunflower Hill as well as apartments for veterans and affordable units for seniors. They also are planning for about 400 homes with a variety of floor plans for an active adult community similar to what is next door at their Ironwood Village project.
Although they don’t believe their project, with all of the empty-nester homes, will create demand for a school, they are planning for a kindergarten through eighth grade school site. It will be a much better location that the school district’s existing unused site on Vineyard Avenue. Their proforma also includes paying school fees.
In contrast to the 2015 draft plan, Ponderosa’s current thinking calls for 26 percent affordable housing. There was no affordable housing in the prior plan. As a homebuilder with a project of this scale, Ponderosa is thinking about a range of floor plans with some single-family detached at about 1,500 square feet (there are plenty of homes in that size range in Pleasanton, but most were built decades ago when land was far less expensive). New detached homes of that size are rarely built nowadays.
The city staff recommends that the Planning Commission serve as the review body during the process that will build off work done in the earlier draft. Schroeder believes that Ponderosa is ideally suited to lead the project. They’ve enlisted a consultant from one of the firms known for its master planning skill and will pay for a city planning staff member to work almost full-time on the plan.
For the City Council, which now is expected to consider the process and the staff recommendation Feb. 18, it should amount to a no-brainer. There are many reasons to proceed and solid reasons why further delay could result in outcomes citizens will not like.