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By Tim Hunt

A great Leap Day idea moves forward

Uploaded: Feb 14, 2017

It is remarkable to witness the progress of Sunflower Hill has made toward its goal of providing long-term housing solutions for adults with special needs.
Swapping emails with Susan Houghton, the board president, she recalled that it was Leap Day (Feb. 29) five years ago when she started trading emails with parents who shared her concern about long-term housing their adult children. Now, just five years later, Sunflower has land, cash commitments and a clear path toward a 30, one-bedroom project in Pleasanton.
Susan noted in her email that Leap Day ideas are considered to be a precursor for starting great, innovative projects—amen.
Last week, the Pleasanton City Council unanimously (Councilman Jerry Pentin was not at the meeting) approved an 87-unit housing project that also includes a 1.64-acre site reserved for Sunflower Hill. The 15-acre project bounded by Stanley Boulevard and the Arroyo Del Valle includes the extension of Nevada Drive to Stanley Boulevard and First Street.
The partnership between Sunflower and developer Mike Serpa coupled with the city’s agreement allows Sunflower to move forward with a separate entitlement process with the city. The council also approved an exclusive negotiation arrangement with Sunflower.
Houghton told the council that the organization intends to break ground by early 2019. The organization has partnered with SAHA Housing on its Pleasanton project. The project includes larger community space because Sunflower wants to allow the opportunity for parents to engage with their children in that area. Some parents have publicly said they may buy the market-rate homes in Serpa’s project.
The SAHA intends to submit plans to the city by July with the goal of an entitlement approval by December. It also must line-up the tax-credit financing for the approximately $14.35 million project. One source of funding could be the county-wide affordable housing bond that the voters approved last November.
In addition to contributing the land for Sunflower, Serpa’s organization will contribute $1 million to the project through the city’s affordable housing fund. The council also approved an additional $1.25 million from that fund for the Sunflower project.
The housing plan includes two- and three-story homes with small lots that likely will be priced at less than $1 million. The project is easily walkable to downtown and is a better use of that site than more commercial like what’s in the adjoining Stanley Business Park.
There was some opposition, but Gerry Beaudin, the city’s community development director, estimated that emails favored the project by a 70-30 margin. Most speakers at the council meeting also favored the project.
The Sunflower momentum likely will continue to build next month when the Livermore City Council consider its 44-unit project on First Street across from the Safeway shopping center near Interstate 580. That should be a routine yes. The organization will preserve a historic building on the site.
Sunflower is partnered with MidPen Housing on the Livermore project. Sunflower hopes to break ground in early 2018 with residents moving into the new units in 2019.
The projects are the long-term solutions for parents who have raised their special needs children to adulthood and have been concerned about what happens to their kids when they pass on.
Contrary to the views of some critics who question whether the projects will be built, I am confident that we will see groundbreakings and then new homes for special-needs adult. The 74 units planned will take care of the needs some families, but there will need to be an ongoing effort to provide housing solutions for the adult special-needs population.
Sunflower Hill has developed an excellent roadmap for other organizations with similar goals. There are about 80 similar projects being developed across the country.