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City leaders to continue rezoning efforts for Costco store in Pleasanton

Speakers in packed meeting room talk about traffic, not Costco

A majority of the members of the Pleasanton City Council and Planning Commission agreed Tuesday night that they will continue with plans to rezone a 40-acre site on Johnson Drive to accommodate a proposed Costco membership store and two hotels.

The commitment came after a three-hour public discussion in a packed meeting room in the Pleasanton Senior Center.

Although the meeting was billed as a "workshop," with no votes taken, three council members, including Mayor Jerry Thorne, agreed to direct city planners to convene public hearings to allow the Planning Commission and council to consider certification of plans to create a Johnson Drive Economic Development Zone.

Once approved at the city level, the plan would be placed on a ballot to gain Pleasanton voter approval, either in conjunction with the General Election Nov. 8 or in early 2017.

At the same time, a citizens group headed by Bill Wheeler is seeking signatures to qualify an initiative for the Nov. 8 ballot that would limit any retail development on the Johnson Drive site to no more than a 50,000-square-foot store, about a third of the size Costco would need for its store. Hotels or other non-retail uses would not be affected by the ruling if approved.

Wheeler owns Black Tie Transportation, which is located next to the redevelopment site on Johnson Drive.

Supporters of the petition lined the sidewalk in front of the Senior Center on Tuesday night seeking signatures from those attending the meeting.

Although Costco has not submitted any formal plans to build a store on Johnson Drive, the retailer has signed a letter of intent to purchase 20 acres of the 40-acre site to be rezoned. If the site is rezoned, Costco would need to get the approval of both the Planning Commission and City Council before building permits could be issued.

At Tuesday night's meeting, only Councilwoman Karla Brown vehemently opposed the rezoning plan, although others suggested waiting for the outcome of Wheeler's initiative before taking staff time to continue work on the plan.

"We don't need a club retail (Costco) here," she said. "Something up to 50,000 square feet will pay (the taxes), and we won't have 12,000 cars using Johnson Drive."

But Planning Commissioner Herb Ritter disagreed.

"I want to continue this process," he said. "I am in favor of keeping taxpayer dollars in Pleasanton."

Gerry Beaudin, the city's community development director, said Costco and the two planned hotels would generate $2.7 million a year in additional revenue for the city, or about 8% more than current receipts. The new Costco store would be similar to its stores in Danville and Livermore, although its Pleasanton parking lot would be larger.

Beaudin said without having any specific plans from Costco, he doesn't know how large the Pleasanton store would be. Livermore's Costco is a 160,000-square-foot building, compared to a 140,000-square-foot store in Danville.

Black Tie Transportation and Valley Bible Church, which would be located in the 40-acre site to be rezoned, would be "grandfathered" in the plan and be able to "modestly" expand their facilities.

However, the plan calls for widening Johnson Drive to four lanes with no parking spaces between ClubSport and Stoneridge Drive. Black Tie employees who park their personal cars on Johnson Drive would have to find other spots.

Of the 30 speakers who addressed city staff, the commissioners and council members Tuesday night, most talked about ongoing and increasing traffic problems in Pleasanton and their concerns that a big box store like Costco, with its regional appeal, would make things worse.

"I shop at Costco in Livermore, and I would rather keep driving there than to see one here," one woman said.

Other comments included:

* "My office is at Hacienda and Owens Drive. I see how congested I-580 is already; I can't imagine another 12,000 cars coming from a Pleasanton Costco."

* "I'm a Costco member and am very excited about the prospect of Costco coming here. I won't have to go on the freeway twice a month to shop at Costco."

* "I own a business in Pleasanton. There's just no room in this city for more retail."

* "I'm 18 years old. Why do we need a Costco, all for a few sales tax dollars? Do you really care about my generation?"

Summing up what many speakers said, one woman said, "This is not about Costco, it's about traffic."

In a statement, Tony Perino, president of Nearon Enterprises, which owns 22 acres of the Johnson Drive redevelopment site, said his company purchased the site from the Clorox Corp. when it moved its research center to a new nearby corporate campus.

Nearon spent $2.5 million tearing down buildings on the site and removing toxic chemicals left behind from 50 years of industrial use there, and Nearon now has a "clean bill of health" by regional agencies.

"We now have a signed agreement with Costco for a 15.6-acre site ... and we are also under contract with a developer that has secured franchise approval to build two Marriott-flagged hotels."

He added that Costco demographers indicated that the vast majority of Pleasanton households are currently Costco members.

"The EDZ (Economic Development Zone) ... is an example of strategic community development and planning at its best," Perino added.

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