The San Ramon City Council voted last week to deny an appeal from a neighborhood group that would have seen the Planning Commission's earlier vote reluctantly approving a controversial housing project overturned if approved.
Councilmembers convened at their regular meeting on March 14 to discuss an appeal of the commission's decision to approve the proposed Marketplace mixed-use project on Feb. 16, brought forward by Citizens Against Marketplace Development (CAMPAD), as well as an appeal by the applicant that sought to override one of the commission's conditions of approval for the project.
The unanimous vote to deny the appeal from CAMPAD and to approve the appeal from applicant TRC Retail with some modifications that maintained a portion of a shared parking agreement between residential and retail portions of the proposed development came following extensive discussion and comments from the public, as well as planning commissioners.
"I speak here tonight as an individual, not as a member of the Planning Commission or on behalf of the Planning Commission because the Planning Commission– it's our decision that's being attacked by everybody – the Planning Commission as a whole cannot speak through an individual or otherwise," Planning Commissioner Eric Wallis said.
"The first thing is why this shared parking agreement is important, and that's all I'm going to speak about. This project consists of 40 … four-bedroom homes with two-car garages, no street parking and no driveway aprons," he continued.
Wallis was critical of the appeal from TRC on the table that evening, arguing that the shared parking agreement commissioners had included as a condition of approval for the project was required as part of the mixed-use designation the project would be zoned under.
"One of the arguments the applicant and staff made is that it's a constitutional violation to have the shared parking arrangement," Wallis said. " As I pointed out, constitutional violation only occurs when the city requires the applicant to provide money or property in exchange for the condition. That's not true here. There is no constitutional violation, and I'm kind of surprised that the staff repeated that argument in front of you."
He noted that while the shared parking agreement wouldn't be required if TRC was applying for a purely residential project, the mixed-use designation they were seeking meant otherwise.
"The whole point to share(d) parking is set forth in the zoning ordinance I attached in my memo is there are additional requirements for mixed use parking," he continued. "If this was a single family home complex only they could make that argument but they've done this as a mixed use arrangement. They have to meet our standards for that."
He added that the purpose of this requirement was for businesses and residential areas to be able to compliment each other and make the most of retail parking.
"The whole reason to share parking when you have mixed use is the parking and traffic arrangements occur at different times," Wallis said. "Businesses operate during the day, ppl go to work during the day. You need parking for businesses during the day, you need parking for people at night. They're not at the same time."
Commissioner Rick Marks also spoke to the council at the start of public comments that evening, during which he also emphasized the shared parking agreement required for mixed-use projects and was critical of moves by city staff.
"The staff made the determination that because our typical parking requirements for res dev had been met in the garages of the proposed that they had the ability … to waive the condition that there be shared parking as required in the project area mixed use plan," Marks said. "There is no such discretion in that part of the ordinance, none."
Marks argued that it was also unreasonable and impractical to eliminate the shared parking agreement.
"City planning is more than just calculating the FAR, what the height limits are, what the setbacks are, it is about what are you creating what are you creating for the people who are going to live there and in this case you have the opportunity to make life more livable for that third car and there's no good reason to say we're not going to to do it," Marks said. "Their business issues with other leases is not the city's responsibility. It was theirs to figure out before they made the application."
During a public comment, Susie Ferris-Inderkum noted that the project had been approved by the commission after extensive debate, and with some reluctance.
"The Planning Commission approval was not unanimous," Ferris-Inderkrum said.
"In fact it was quite divided. And it's really worth going back and looking at the video because there was a lot of controversy on that, so I want to be very clear that it was not unanimous."
She also noted that the much decried loss of Nob Hill Foods as a tenant in the existing Marketplace Shopping Center was directly related to the planned housing project.
"You have to remember that TRC had already submitted plans for that massive apartment complex … So that's one of the reasons Nob Hill was terminated," Ferris-Inderkrum said. "They needed to get a favorable long-term lease or it wasn't feasible for them to stay if it was going to be replaced with housing."
Carol O'Keefe, also during a public comment, emphasized the skepticism she and another member of CAMPAD had regarding the project's mixed-use designation.
"We're creating a community for 120 people in a situation that clearly is not mixed-use," O'Keefe said. "Merely having a coffee shop nearby a development of 40 homes is really stretching the term mixed-use."
After lengthy discussions and negotiations with representatives from TRC, the Council took their vote to deny the appeal from CAMPAD and modify the appeal from TRC to allow 12 retail parking spaces to be used for overnight parking by residents, and to adjust the end of the overnight parking time to 5:30 a.m.
As part of a time extension the city agreed to with applicant TRC Retail, the council had committed to review and vote on the proposed project on March 14, following four public hearings at the Planning Commission, with the maximum number of meetings on the project being capped at five between the commission and the council.
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