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March 16, 2010

A regular meeting of the Planning Commission, City of San Ramon was called to order by Chair O’Loane at 7:00 p.m., Tuesday, March 16, 2010 in the Council Chambers 2222 Camino Ramon, San Ramon.


Present:           Comms. Kerger, Wallis, Viers, Sachs, and Chair O’Loane

Absent              None        

Staff:  Phil Wong, Planning Director; Debbie Chamberlain, Planning   Services Manager; Cindy Yee, Associate Planner; Peter Choi, Interim City Attorney; Lieutenant Gresham; Luisa Willnecker, Recording Secretary

Audience:     4

1. CALL TO ORDER                    





     6.1 Minutes from March 2, 2010 meeting. Approved


8. CONTINUED ITEMS – OPEN PUBLIC HEARING -None-                      




11.1 St. James Place Mixed Use Development (RZ 09-600-001, DP 09-300-002, MK 09-900-001, AR 09-200-041, and IS 09-250-004). Staff Report by: Cindy M. Yee; Associate Planner

Associate Planner Cindy Yee gave a PowerPoint presentation and stated that tonight’s application is the St. James Place Mixed Use Development. The proposal includes a 128-unit multi-family condominium complex and 17,370 square feet of service commercial building located on a vacant 4.34-acre site. Ms. Yee stated that the applications included an Architectural Review application, Development Plan application, Rezone application for a Service Commercial Zoning Overlay onto the commercial building, and a major Subdivision for the Subdivision of the parcel. The site is located at 4700 Norris Canyon Road and the surrounding uses are commercial and residential and adjacent west of the parcel is the Iron Horse Trail.

Ms. Yee added that the site plan consists of three components. Component one is the 128-unit residential condominium project primarily fronting Norris Canyon Road; the second component is 17,370 square feet of service commercial building; and the third component are the site improvements which include expansion of the parking lot, and access easements that will be necessary for the landscape improvements.

The rezone request allows the operation of service commercial uses within the service commercial multi use building. Typically within a mixed-use zone it has retail serving uses for the residential neighborhood that would be part of a mixed-use project. The applicant is requesting businesses that are more oriented towards service commercial that would include wholesaling, distribution, storage, and potential building materials and sales. The property is zoned mixed-use, the applicant is meeting all the development criteria with the exception of lot coverage, and parking.

Ms. Yee further added that the project does not meet the parking requirements for the commercial space. The architecture is Mediterranean with Paseo walkways. The 128 units are housed in a 3-story walk up condominiums with a height of 39-feet, with parking for each unit in a tandem garage. The commercial building has a more contemporary architecture.

Ms. Yee also added this project is located within the North Camino Ramon Specific plan. The planning staff is looking for direction from the Planning Commission on whether or not the proposed service commercial use is compatible with surrounding uses as well as the future North Camino Ramon Specific Plan.  

Ms. Yee further added that staff is also seeking direction if the site layout and site design would be appropriate for this location. Planning staff has concerns with the proximity of the buildings to roadways, the location of the access points, and potential conflicts with the Iron Horse Trail and Norris Canyon Road. 

Ms. Yee further asked if a lot coverage of 48% was appropriate where a maximum of 30% is allowed. Finally does the building’s architecture relate to the vision of the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan.

Ms. Yee also added that tandem garage parking is a new concept in San Ramon and the current Zoning Ordinance potently allows for tandem parking at the discretion of the Planning Commission. The Zoning Ordinance currently does not specify minimum or maximum size requirements for tandem spaces. The applicant is proposing a depth of 34 feet for plan one and two, and 41 ½ feet for plan three.  The applicant is not proposing any deed restricted affordable units based on a recent court case decision.

Comm. Kerger asked if notices were sent to the surrounding housing development across from Alcosta Boulevard.

Ms. Yee replied that The Foothills Condominiums are outside the required 300-foot radius.

Comm. Viers asked if anyone was present from the Architectural Review Board. Ms. Yee replied no.

Vice Chair Sachs asked if the project has been reviewed by the Housing Advisory Committee. Ms. Yee replied that the project has not gone to the Housing Advisory Committee. The only public meetings were preliminary design review through the Architectural Review Board and a final design review in February 2010.

Vice Chairs Sachs asked what would require the project to be brought before the Housing Advisory Committee. Ms. Yee replied all new development projects are brought before the Housing Advisory Committee for their recommendation. Because there is no affordable component proposed, the application has not been before them; and with the recent court case, we are waiting for information from our City Attorney on how to proceed with the City’s Affordable Housing Policy.

Dan Boatwright project manager for Castle Companies stated that they have been working on this project for 2 ½ years with the City Planning Director and Planning Services Manager through an iterative process trying to come up with a plan that would work. Mr. Boatwright further stated that this is more of a smart growth project which is mandated by the General Plan and encouraged by the Planning Commission and City Council. It is  near the San Ramon Transit Center it is on the Iron Horse Trail, it has nearby shopping, Central Park, and a library.  He continued that the project is designed to make the best use of its location. Mr. Boatwright added that the highest density at this location was not providing enough parking but providing a high degree of connectivity between the site and the surrounding land use especially the Iron Horse Trail, and most of the existing offsite amenities such as the trail, parks, library and particularly the employment. Mr. Boatwright further added that the architecture is a Mediterranean theme and felt that this project was large enough where it can take on its own identity.

Comm. Viers stated that the Architectural Review Board has recommended that the Planning Commission deny the project. In terms of an affordable housing lawsuit, it has more to do with meeting with staff and asking what needs to be done. Comm. Viers further stated that he does not support the project and added that by providing affordable housing that certain deed restrictions are placed only on a portion of the project and not the whole project.

Mr. Boatwright replied that he was well aware of the requirements. In terms of affordable housing a buyer would prefer to purchase a comparable home without a deed restriction. Mr. Boatwright added that service commercial mixed-use is a requirement since the property is designated as mixed-use. Mr. Boatwright also added that the direction came from the Planning Commission and City Council for the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan.  Mr. Boatwright also added that the Architectural Review Board wanted a less dense project and proposed removing different buildings and adding more openings to the project to enhance the views into the project.

Mr. Baldacci stated that he has built between 50,000-60,000 houses in the State of California since 1960.  Mr. Baldacci added that the Architectural Review Board did not care for the project and made several suggestions. Mr. Baldacci further stated that the Planning Director suggested workforce housing. Mr. Baldacci further added that they are proposing tandem garages. Mr. Baldacci also added that this project provides access to trails and different amenities such as a park and a library. Mr. Baldacci further added that Castle Company would negotiate on any issue on the project.

Vice Chair Sachs stated that he had looked at the floor plans in detail and commented that Mr. Baldacci had a nice vision for that type of housing.

Vice Chair Sachs asked if the project could be completed by 2012. Vice Chair Sachs further asked how much did Castle Company anticipate selling the units for and asked for clarification of “affordable by design.” Mr. Baldacci replied affordable by design is that the design itself carriers certain characteristics of efficiency.

Mr. Boatwright added the selling price would range between $270,000.00 to $290,000.00 and improvements can begin by this time next year with construction starting by late summer and closing escrow in 2011.

Comm. Kerger expressed her concerns about the Mediterranean look and felt that the design would not blend with the surrounding area. Comm. Kerger added that the Architectural Review Board pointed out concerns with the size of the tandem garages, the circulation, and the guest parking. Comm. Kerger further added that she would prefer to see affordable and senior housing.  Comm. Kerger stated that she did not want to see a 5-story building and felt that the current height is adequate. Comm. Kerger further stated that the tandem parking situation needs to be looked into and being across the street from Bishop Ranch, Norris Canyon Road can become congested with traffic in the afternoons.

Mr. Baldacci replied that the project would not generate any additional traffic. Mr. Baldacci added that Castle Company is not familiar with the deed restriction process.  Mr. Baldacci further added that he never thought of affordable housing because their pricing has always been affordable.

Comm. Viers stated that the Housing Element has been certified by the State and Mr. Baldacci had an obligation to negotiate with staff on affordable housing.

Comm. Wallis stated that he was not pleased with the tandem parking and was concerned about the stall size. Comm. Wallis further stated that the Architectural Review Board had pointed out that the space allowed for the garage is not adequate with the types of vehicles typically found with a 2- and 3- bedroom condominium.

Comm. Wallis further added that a large portion of the units are 3 bedroom units, which will be occupied by families with two or three children. Comm. Wallis added that the amount of space allocated to park two cars in the garage is not adequate and suggested that the applicant work on the depth of the garage parking spaces.   

Mr. Boatwright replied that they realize that this could be a potential concern with the 36-foot deep garages and does not see a problem since the other units have garages that are 43 feet deep.  

Comm. Wallis stated his concerns about the play area which is located between two of the buildings. Comm. Wallis further stated that families with children will be occupying the three bedroom units and parents are not going to want their small children walking to Central Park. Comm. Wallis also stated he understands the constraints in terms of the area but the outside recreation area has to accommodate the families with children.

Mr. Boatwright asked if Comm. Wallis was suggesting enlarging the current play area.

Comm. Wallis replied that he is not sure if a larger play area could be accommodated. Comm. Wallis added that Castle Company is marketing a large portion of their product to families that are going to have younger children, and having a play area which is large enough to accommodate families and that is safe needs to be taken into account.

Mr. Boatwright replied that in San Francisco this would be an everyday occurrence that children would have to play in the courtyard or go to the park.

Comm. Wallis stated that one of the amenities that San Ramon has always prided itself on is the outdoor amenities in the parks.  Comm. Wallis further stated that it is important to the people of San Ramon, the Planning Commission and City Council.

Mr. Boatwright replied that they would look and see what can be done to enlarge the play area.  Mr. Boatwright added that they have considered the Iron Horse Trail about creating a public park which can be a joint use.  It could be used by families with children, joggers, and bicyclist.  

Chair O’Loane asked if this was discussed.

Planning Manager Debbie Chamberlain replied that Mr. Boatwright is referring to the ownership under Contra Costa County with an easement to the East Bay Regional Park District. Ms. Chamberlain replied that any improvements proposed for the trail are difficult to implement.

Mr. Boatwright asked if staff was referring to the Parks District or the County.

Comm. Kerger replied East Bay Regional Park District.

Mr. Boatwright added that one of the benefits Castle Company could provide is that there is an existing water well on the site and could be used to irrigate the landscaping at minimal cost. Mr. Boatwright further added that who would maintain it and if the City of San Ramon had an interest in doing so.

Comm. Wallis stated that the applicant is asking for a Variance and he understands that, as a mixed-use development, there needs to be a commercial aspect. Comm. Wallis asked if there are different types of commercial uses and what would be the effect of having a different designation for that area as opposed to service commercial.

Mr. Boatwright replied that service commercial could include a print shop or a distribution center for a building supply or furniture store.

Comm. Wallis stated that an auto repair facility was adjacent to the property and expressed his concerns about that type of use adjacent to the proposed 128-units and having small children nearby.

Mr. Boatwright replied that it has to go through a use permit process. The City can impose restrictions in terms of types of noise, time of business hours, traffic generated and business.  Mr. Boatwright added that the Zoning Administrator would make this decision.

Comm. Wallis asked Mr. Boatwright if the type of commercial that it is currently surrounding your property would that work for you.  Mr. Boatwright replied yes.  

Chair O’Loane asked for Comm. Wallis to clarify his concern if service commercial uses were acceptable or is he considering a different use.  

Comm. Wallis replied one of the applications is to add a service commercial overlay on the property and the area is not currently zoned for service commercial.

Ms. Chamberlain replied that the applicant is requesting a new service commercial overlay district.  Planning staff would write specific uses that could go on that property with a use permit or permitted by right.

Ms. Chamberlain further added that staff has spoken with Castle Company in the past that on how a clean service commercial would work better than an automotive repair shop because of the issues that go along with automotive service.

Comm. Wallis asked that in terms of writing an overlay zone we could control the uses. Ms. Chamberlain replied yes and having an automotive repair shop is not the vision for that property because of its location within the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan.

Planning Director Phil Wong stated that the other concept is to have a live work situation where you have a small flex space where you can walk to your housing unit.

Comm. Kerger asked if a sports organization could have an office at this location to store equipment.  Ms. Chamberlain replied yes.

Ms. Chamberlain added that an office certainly could be one of the uses and that parking is a little more intense with an office than a warehouse use.

Vice Chair Sachs asked why Castle Company chose to go with service commercial instead of adding more units. Mr. Boatwright replied that the Zoning Ordinance requires that you have a commercial component.

Mr. Boatwright added that it was suggested by the planning staff that with the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan moving forward in 2-3 years the project could be all residential.

Vice Chair Sachs further asked Mr. Boatwright if he thought a retail mixed use would be a good fit. Mr. Boatwright replied no.

Vice Chair Sachs asked if the development required having a commercial service component.

Ms. Chamberlain replied no, it would have to be a non-residential component. 

Vice Chair Sachs stated that based on the General Plan density numbers there is a maximum number of 30 units per ace. The project needs to have non-residential component and cannot be all residential.  Vice Chair Sachs asked if there is opportunity to change the zoning on the 4.3-acre site.

Ms. Chamberlain replied the Zoning Ordinance and General Plan would need to be changed.

Mr. Wong stated that the application conforms to the current General Plan.  As indicated earlier we are in the process of developing the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan.

Comm. Walls asked would Castle Company be in favor of a residential project.

Mr. Baldacci replied the commercial service shelters the residential from the existing service commercial.

Comm. Wallis asked if the commercial building would serve as a break between the residential and the other surrounding commercial on Norris Canyon Road. Mr. Baldacci replied yes.

Comm. Kerger asked if Castle Company had contacted the Foothills Homeowners Association prior to going to the City.  Mr. Boatwright replied no.

Comm. Kerger asked Mr. Boatwright how do you do an outreach to the community. Mr. Boatwright replied that Castle Company normally holds a neighborhood meeting. Mr. Boatwright added that they did not notify any surrounding business or residents of this meeting and if the Planning Commission wanted Castle Company to notify the surrounding residents and businesses they would do so.

Comm. Kerger replied that she encourages Castle Company to contact the surrounding businesses and residents. Comm. Kerger added that she understands the need for service commercial and feels it will be a good transition.  Affordable senior housing is an important aspect of this project also.  

Comm. Viers stated that he prefers the site be all residential to support the Architectural Review Board’s comments.  The project is too ambitious and added that there is not enough connectivity, that the project is too dense, and the buildings are too close together.

Comm. Viers further added that Planning Services is still in the process of developing the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan and that the area could potentially change.  Comm. Viers also added that he would like the Planning Commission to consider rezoning the area, expand the residential, add affordable housing, and expand the play area.

Chair O’Loane asked about the liner parks and if would be part of the North Camino. Comm. Wallis replied that it ends before the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan.

Chair O’Loane asked for clarification in what direction did the existing commercial building face. Mr. Boatwright replied south.

Chair O’Loane asked if the Police Department and Fire Department had commented on this project.

Ms. Chamberlain replied that the Development Review Committee consisting of internal staff had a meeting where general comments were provided from various departments and agencies.  

Ms. Yee added that the Fire Department is part of our Development Review Committee and had looked at the project in terms of entryway for emergency vehicles.

Chair O’Loane stated that according to his understanding no decision would be made at this meeting.

Ms. Chamberlain replied yes and summarized the concerns of the Planning Commissioners. Ms. Chamberlain added that the Planning Commissioners would like to increase the size of the park; had concerns about the size of the tandem garages; the number and location of guest parking and spreading additional guest parking throughout the development; adding affordable housing; and the architecture should be able to blend with a variety of architectural styles that may be proposed within the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan. Ms. Chamberlain further added that the height was a concern, more community outreach was needed and that the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan should move forward first and the project follow.

Chair O’Loane asked if the East Bay Regional Parks District could be contacted regarding the Iron Horse Trail. Ms. Chamberlain replied it would be Contra Costa County because they own the land.

Comm. Wallis asked Mr. Boatwright if he had any questions. Mr. Boatwright replied that they have received the direction they are looking for.  

Comm. Viers stated that he agrees with the Architectural Review Board comments on page nine.

Ms. Yee stated that she staffs’ the Architectural Review Board and added that the Architectural Review Board held two meetings to discuss the site plan of the project.  The Architectural Review Board felt strongly about the site design and the issues related to the spaces between the buildings, as well as the walkways. By eliminating a building it would open up the park area directly into the Iron Horse Trail. Ms. Yee added that the majority of the changes the Architectural Review Board saw at the second meeting were in relation to meeting the 15-foot setback along Norris Canyon Road. There was not enough room to get more space between the buildings.

Chair O’Loane asked for clarification if the Architectural Review Board wanted to eliminate a building.

Ms. Yee replied yes or rearrange the location of the buildings.   

Chair O’Loane stated that it would be a 120-unit residential project.

Ms. Yee replied yes by eliminating Building B.

Ms. Yee added that the second site plan presented to the Architectural Review Board had no changes. At that meeting the Architectural Review Board was presented with the original site plan with no alternatives. The applicant determined that they could not lose any additional units and there was not enough room to space out the buildings on site.

Mr. Boatwright stated that the Architectural Review Board suggested removing several units for more space in-between the buildings, which means eliminating several units.

Vice Chair Sachs asked Mr. Boatwright how big was the development located on Fostoria Drive.

Mr. Baldacci replied 25 units to the acre and did not recall how large the parcel was.

Comm. Kerger asked what the Planning Commissioners next step was.

Ms. Chamberlain replied that staff would meet with the applicant and continue to work on revising the site layout. Staff will work on the affordable housing requirements and move forward with the environmental review and return to the Planning Commission for a public hearing.

Comm. Kerger stated that at the next meeting she would prefer to see an overlay and, suggestions from the Architectural Review Board as to what buildings they would like to eliminate and how the layout of the project would be with the building eliminated. Comm. Kerger further commented if service commercial was the key component of the project, and could be building be reduced.

There being no further discussion, Chair O’Loane adjourned the meeting at 9:30 p.m.                        

Respectively Submitted,

Luisa Willnecker


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