The San Ramon Planning Commission is set Tuesday to resume discussions on an ambitious residential project that could single-handedly move the city forward by leaps and bounds toward meeting state mandates for additional housing.
In their sixth public hearing on City Village, a 404-unit proposed project set for a 31-acre site in the existing Bishop Ranch business park, commissioners will continue discussions and recommendations to staff on the many details that still need to be ironed out before the project receives final consideration.
The commissioners are set to hear a staff report with additional information they'd previously requested from the applicant, SummerHill Homes. This includes more details on the proposed project's affordable housing plan and amendments to the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan, as well as a list of draft conditions of approval for the project.
Commissioners pointed to the difficult situation they faced in the prior meeting on the proposal on Oct. 5. Like other cities in the state, and particularly in the bay area, San Ramon is tasked with contending with the state housing shortfall by allowing for the development of an additional 1,417 residential units under the state's regional housing needs allocation (RHNA).
The 404 units envisioned under the City Village proposal would go a long way toward meeting the city's RHNA total. However, some commissioners expressed concerns about what precedents might be falling by the wayside with extensive amendments to the existing North Camino Ramon specific plan under the proposal
"I think that one of the things that I have found troubling from the very beginning of this process is that we were handed a done deal, that we were given a list of 24 amendments to this North Camino Ramon project that we've had to slog through for your project," said Jean Kuznik, planning commission chair. "It looks as if you perhaps looked at the North Camino Ramon project and said 'eh, that's not a problem', and set about to get us to amend all the things that you needed."
Kuznik said that her procedural concerns weren't meant to reflect on the quality of the proposal, or whether it is appropriate for San Ramon. However, she expressed worries about the precedent it could set for future proposals that come to the commission.
"It is really concerning for me, as commissioner, that we are setting the case in which future projects will come before this commission and before the city, and basically just start piecemealing all the things that they want for just their amendment," Kuznik said.
She pointed to ways in which she still wasn't entirely content with updates to the proposal, such as its fit within the city's walking district, and the fact that it would be bordered by busy streets, potentially posing a hazard to young families.
Additionally, Kuznik pointed to the fact that she'd been happy with much of the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan in its initial form, but noted that this perspective "did not seem to have sway" in earlier discussions
"I have some concerns with this and how this is going to move planning in our city going forward," Kuznik said. "So I think coming here with 24 amendments, now granted some were small, like changing maps, but this was kind of a big ask for an area where we'd already spent quite a lot of time developing a specific plan. And to my understanding, that's what specific plans are for."
Despite reluctance from Kuznik, the commission voted unanimously on Oct. 5 to move the proposed amendments forward to the City Council, and to continue discussions on the City Village proposal in this Tuesday's meeting, as well as the commission's subsequent meeting on Nov. 2.
Planning Commissioner Rick Marks, however, emphasized that his vote should not be construed as unconditional approval for the final project.
"I am looking forward to the applicant making some changes that we have talked about, in part because we've been frustrated that we didn't have a chance to talk about these early on, and in part because I think it would better the project," Marks said. "I just want to say that I hope nobody reads anything into my vote regarding what I will do when the actual project comes before us."
The San Ramon Planning Commission is set to meet on Tuesday (Oct. 19) at 7 p.m. over Zoom to continue public hearings on the proposed City Village project. The agenda is available here.
In other business
* The Planning Commission and City Council are set for a joint meeting on Tuesday at 5 p.m., ahead of the commission's regular meeting. The agenda is available here.
Debbie Chamberlain, community development director, is set to present a report from Cindy Yee, the city's senior planner, on San Ramon's General Plan update, and invite comments and recommendations from the public, commission and council.
This amendment is intended to consist of updates to all aspects of the city's General Plan, including its Housing Element, and the Climate Action Plan. In addition, new and/or relevant topics would be added to the General Plan, consistent with state law and the changing needs of the city.
Staff are soliciting public comment, as well as input and further direction from the council and commission. Efforts at community engagement on the General Plan update have been ongoing since the summer. In addition to public meetings and workshops such as the one set for Tuesday, these have included a community survey, a website dedicated to the project, and information booths at community events.
The General Plan update process will continue throughout 2021 and 2022 before being formally adopted by the council.