The San Ramon Planning Commission is set to vote Tuesday on a contentious mixed-use project that would overhaul one of the city's few remaining shopping centers following the closure of a popular grocery store and amid ensuing calls to prioritize retail outside of the growing City Center area.
Commissioners will debate the proposal's compliance with the inclusionary housing ordinance and review revisions to the proposed project's conditions of approval (COA) following discussion at the most recent public hearing on the topic on Jan. 12.
In addition to discussions leading to the COA revisions at the last meeting, commissioners and members of the public weighed in on their top concerns about the controversial mixed-use project, including developers' plans to remove more than 100 parking spaces.
During the beginning of commission discussions on Jan. 12, which are set to continue ahead of Tuesday's vote on a resolution to approve the proposal, some residents expressed a range of concerns about the project, which has garnered widespread pushback from individuals and neighborhood groups, including the formation of Citizens Against Marketplace Development (CAMPAD).
"I don't think you should have any illusions about the development proposal," Jim Blickenstaff said in a public comment. "The reason you have not seen a proposal for a master plan by staff or TRC is simple. There's already a substitute plan for a viable city master plan, and the way I see it is the slow conversion of Marketplace mixed-use and retail center to a housing site. Not exactly what the General Plan had in mind."
The mixed-use designation of the project, which would primarily consist of housing while retaining just a fraction of existing retail space -- 1,869 square feet out of 185,000 -- was the subject of critique from a number of members of the public as well as commissioners at that meeting.
Ariel Strauss, the newly retained attorney for CAMPAD, also voiced this concern in a letter to city officials on behalf of his clients dated Dec. 6, in which he alleged that the proposed project fails to comply with basic requirements from the city.
"The application is objectively not compliant with the General Plan and zoning ordinance requirements," Strauss wrote. "The project similarly does not constitute an 'integrated mix' of uses because it is a separate tract of semi-detached homes and does not 'reflect high quality design with integrated open space and recreational and/or cultural amenities.'"
Other overarching concerns from residents included the reduction of retail space outside of the growing City Center area nearby, and suspicions that the exit of Nob Hill Foods last year was motivated by difficulties faced by tenants of the longstanding shopping center.
"We all know -- those of us who have lived in San Ramon for 30 years plus -- that the intentional negligence of the Marketplace has displaced many business owners and restaurateurs," Diana Korpi said at the Jan. 12 hearing. "So I just need to make that a point, that it's not because people don't want to operate there, it's because they've been basically forced out."
The resulting landscape of limited grocery options for a growing population -- potentially including the future residents of the 40 single-family units and four junior accessory dwelling units that would be the main feature of the new Marketplace development -- has already been a source of frustration for residents who would prefer to shop locally.
"We need a grocery store," Denise Morgan said in a public comment. "I am literally going out of the city to go to a grocery store because we don't have good grocery stores here. And I would much rather spend the money in the city of San Ramon than take it outside of San Ramon, but because it's not around, there's not good grocery stores here any longer, it's unfortunate that's happening and we have several other people in my neighborhood that are doing that."
Morgan and others also raised concerns about the proposed design and architecture choices for the proposed project and other new mixed-use developments in neighboring communities.
"You have not heard any positive comments from the public about wanting this jammed in housing, yet we still keep going on and on and on about it, without deciding 'do we really need to have those houses shoved down there or should we keep it retail?' Morgan said.
Korpi also noted that the proposed project -- which would only fulfill a fraction of the project's Regional Housing Needs Allocation, with 44 units total -- did not seem to be in keeping with the spirit of increased accessibility to affordable housing, calling for officials to seek a more effective and less contentious alternative.
"We need to talk about mixed use and we need to talk about protecting the retail factor of our city," Korpi said. "We need some place to shop and if we need to integrate housing we need to do so in a thoughtful manner where it's going to really affect our RHNA numbers. Because 40 condos/single-family homes is not going to put a huge impact on those numbers."
In a staff report prepared for the upcoming meeting associate planner Ryan Driscoll said that staff had reviewed questions and concerns raised in the previous hearing and found the proposal to be in compliance with all relevant city regulations.
"Based on the materials provided, staff concludes that the proposed project is consistent with the applicable objective standards for the General Plan, zoning ordinance, municipal code and other similar city requirements," Driscoll wrote.
With staff recommending that commissioners vote to approve the proposed project, they noted that it would still be subject to review for compliance with the state's Housing Accountability Act.
The San Ramon Planning Commission is set to meet at 7 p.m. on Tuesday (Feb. 7). The agenda is available here.
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