The proposed Pleasanton Downtown Specific Plan drew praise and objections during a public hearing at the April 16 city council meeting.

Controversial aspects included buildings 4-stories tall with a floor area ratio (FAR) of up to 300%, and increased residential development, including ground floor homes.

The Downtown Specific Plan update has been underway since January 2017, including work with an appointed Task Force over the past two years. The new plan includes redevelopment of the current civic center site.

The council was asked to provide comment to determine if the task force were moving in the right direction. The council expressed concerns regarding three recommendations. They involved ground-floor residential in commercial and mixed-use districts, land use discrepancies including requests for change in land use initiated by property owners, and development standards related to height and FAR limitations.

FAR refers to a measure of building size or intensity, based on the total square footage of the building relative to the size of the site or parcel it occupies, often expressed as a percentage.

The draft plan proposes 370 new housing units with 124 on the civic center site and 246 elsewhere at higher density. Ground floor units behind commercial on Main Street and on the civic center site were rejected 4 to 1, with Jerry Pentin supporting the idea. Mayor Jerry Thorne stated, "I don't think I can support having residential behind commercial. Councilmember Karla Brown added, "It intensifies downtown too much."

The council voted to support staff recommendation for height and FAR, with Brown and Councilmember Julie Testa opposed. The vote allowed buildings 46’ high with 300% FAR in the commercial area; buildings 36’ high at 125% FAR in the area transitioning from commercial to residential and 30’ high in the residential area. Testa stated that the commercial sizes would create massive buildings.

Brown and Testa made a motion to limit all new construction in the civic center area to two stories, but failed to gain the third vote needed for passage.

Staff noted that the 46-foot-high buildings and 300% FAR were already allowed in the current specific plan.

However, according to the staff report, the current plan sets the maximum building height for commercial at 40 feet (not 46 feet). The FARs downtown vary. It is accurate to say Main Street is 300% today. Office has a limit of 30 feet in height and 30% FAR. In addition, the specific plan limits buildings (both commercial and residential) to two stories in the Downtown Commercial area, and establishes criteria for three-story structures to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Two property owners had requested a residential overlay for their lands. They include the Barrone's Restaurant site and the Shell Station on First Street. The vote was 3 to 2 to reject the overlay with Brown, Testa and Kathy Narum the majority. They were concerned that there was no information about the type of housing and density that would be allowed. However, Narum later said she would like to take a revote at the next council meeting, based on the fact that the landowners would have to pay for a full environmental review, rather than using the city's review.

During the public hearing, Laura Olson, executive director of the Pleasanton Downtown Association (PDA), said that they had worked hard to spread the facts regarding the size of buildings. She mentioned that the height and FAR represented no change to the core area in the specific plan.

Brian Bowers,PDA president, said that the goal is to make downtown awesome for residents and visitors. He supported active ground floor residential, stating that it adds to the walkability of downtown.

Other speakers voiced support. On the other side, Kelly Cousins commented that while the sizes were already allowed, they are not what the city has been approving. "People have a sense of pride in the area with its small, quaint downtown feel. They don't want housing throughout the downtown."

Sandy Yamamoto said, that in a survey conducted by the task force, people said they liked the small town feel of downtown. "We do not support residential or condos in the core area. Nor do we support four story buildings. Parking and circulation are major problems." She feared that the task force had veered away from the goal of increasing vitality and retaining the small town feel of the downtown.

The next meeting of the task force is tentatively set for Tuesday, May 28. Members will discuss the council actions.