The San Ramon Planning Commission is set to resume discussions Tuesday on a proposed townhouse project that would involve demolishing the soon-to-close Golden Skate roller rink.
The proposed Windflower Fields Townhouse project would consist of 47 for-sale townhouses, with 16 accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and a small park, on the more than 3.5-acre site at 2701 Hooper Drive, the current home of the longstanding Golden Skate.
The proposal first came to the commissioners at their Oct. 5 meeting, in which they provided feedback to the applicant, Land Advisors Organization. At issue in particular was the proposed use of ADUs to meet affordable housing requirements, which the commission said did not seem to meet the qualifications.
"I would encourage you to think about, instead of basically a ... first-floor bedroom, or ADU, is to be creative, and maybe we can skinny down the other units," said Jean Kuznik, commission chair. "I always think that not everybody needs as big a housing unit, as we all have come to believe we need. Maybe we could skinny some of them down and put in a one-car garage, and a proper housing unit in these buildings."
Kuznik emphasized that design of the proposal was ultimately the expertise of the developers, but also that she wanted to encourage more creative thinking to meet affordable housing needs.
"I'm just a commissioner; you guys are the creative architects," Kuznik said. "So we are going to see if we can help you be more creative and come back with places we really believe people who need affordable housing will want to live in, beyond just basically a studio apartment in somebody else's home, or attached to somebody else's home."
Commissioner Eric Wallis motioned to continue discussions on the proposed project on Nov. 2, which the commission voted unanimously in favor of.
Discussions on the proposal on Nov. 2 included amendments from the applicant, aimed at addressing concerns previously raised with the use of ADUs as affordable housing. Commissioners raised concerns about receiving the amendments to the proposed project at the meeting, without being able to review them ahead of time.
Complicating matters for commissioners was language in the Housing Crisis Act aimed at speeding up the process of addressing the state's housing shortage by limiting meetings on projects containing affordable housing units to no more than four sessions between the Planning Commission and the City Council.
"I don't think this was the spirit of the law, to limit the number of meetings, to also allow last-minute, under-the-wire changes like this that we don't have ample time to give due diligence and consideration to in the SB 330 law," Kuznik said on Nov. 2.
Alicia Poon, from the City Attorney's Office, said that while she acknowledged the applicant's failure to provide commissioners with amendments to the proposal ahead of time was inconsiderate, SB 330, passed in 2019, is a relatively new piece of legislation that does not seem to have a precedent that allows for additional meetings in circumstances where a legislative body hasn't been informed of relevant changes to a proposed project in time.
"This seems an undue burden on us as a commission, to be dealing with these matters in this kind of a format," Kuznik said.
Overall, commissioners remained dissatisfied with the proposed use of ADUs to satisfy affordable housing requirements, as well as being concerned with the applicants failure to provide them with information on proposed amendments ahead of the Nov. 2 meeting.
In addition to the proposed ADUs being small and attached to single-family residences, the overarching problem with this aspect of the proposal, according to commissioners, was that there was no guarantee that the ADUs, located within for-sale units, would ever be on the market. Although rent for the units would be capped to be below-market rate, and affordable with a low income, there would be no requirement for owners of the proposed for-sale units to rent them out in the first place.
"It's one thing to say that we're going to get 16 affordable units on the books for our market," Kuznik said. "That is true. But if those 16 units never get rented out, and right now as this stands there isn't anything that says they are required to, that's the same as not having 16 units."
Commissioners voted 5-0 to continue discussions on the proposed project to this week's meeting, making it the third of the four meetings in total allowed.
Golden Skate owner Hassan Sharifi's Windflower Fields LLC, which was incorporated in 2007, is listed as the property owner on the application for the Windflower Fields Townhouse project.
"We reopened the rink in May of 2021 and were hopeful that we could regain enough income at a break even or better, but it has become clear that our hope is unrealistic," Sharifi said in an open letter dated Oct. 17, which attracted news coverage and public attention early last month.
In addition to impacts from the pandemic, Sharifi pointed to decline in attendance at roller rinks over the years that has led to the closure of a majority of rinks in the northern part of the state. San Ramon in the Oct. 17 letter.
In 2017, a much larger, 227-unit complex was proposed for the Golden Skate site. That project failed to move forward later in the year, after the commission and city council decided to reduce housing density in that area under the Crow Canyon Specific Plan.
The San Ramon Planning Commission is set to resume discussions on the Windflower Fields Townhouse proposal at 7 p.m. Tuesday (Dec. 7). The agenda is available here.