Pleasanton council to revisit policy on ‘active’ business uses in ground-floor units downtown – Pleasanton Weekly

The Pleasanton City Council is set take a look at an existing policy in the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) meant to “enliven” the downtown core with more shoppers and pedestrians, and consider potential changes to allow some more “non-active” use on the ground floor of retail and commercial spaces at its regular meeting on Tuesday, starting 7 p.m.

Though stemming from a specific item that came to the city recently, staff said the presentation “provides an opportunity for discussion of all aspects of the active ground floor use policy.”

Last updated in 2019, the DSP’s “active ground floor use overlay” policy prohibits non-active first-floor uses along Main Street, with some exceptions. According to a staff report, the policy aims to promote “an active pedestrian environment on the ground floor of a commercial building, and includes retail establishments, restaurants, bars and brew pubs, art and crafts studios.”

Staff said that “the first 25% of a ground floor tenant space, measured perpendicular to the facade fronting a designated active street, must be dedicated to an active use” to ensure businesses locate their active uses at the front, where they’re more visible from the street, and “represent more than a ‘token’ amount.”

When the DSP was last updated, staff said “there was considerable discussion among the task force and other stakeholders on the pros and cons of these policies, which ultimately sought to strike a balance between preserving ground-floor spaces along Main Street for active uses, while providing some limited exceptions intended to avoid undue hardship to property owners.”

A few exceptions were carved out for tenant spaces “subject to an extended vacancy of these spaces; to accommodate unique situations (such as multi-tenant or multi-uses within a single building or space); and to account for some specific challenges for certain Main Street properties, such as leasing purpose-built bank buildings for other uses.”

The policy also allows for “other uses determined by the director of community development to be substantially similar to the foregoing, or to have unique characteristics such that the objectives of the overlay district would be met.”

In December, the city received an application from Iron Horse Real Estate to open for business in a ground-floor space at 550 Main St., “citing its inclusion of a retail component of the business, in conjunction with a real estate office, a non-active use, as a basis to be allowed to occupy the space.” The application was initially denied based on “insufficient evidence … that the retail component would meet the criteria established.”

After making some adjustments to the original proposal, the applicant appealed the decision to the Planning Commission in February. The commission concluded “that the front portion … of the business would be dedicated to retail sales, and provided additional supporting information to demonstrate that the use would be a bona fide retail business.”

The appeal was successful and the commission then asked the council to “consider the policies for active ground-floor uses.” The council agreed, and directed staff in March to look into the matter for further discussion.

Staff said the existing policy needs to be “more stringent, to better meet the intent of the DSP, and avoid abuse,” and an amendment should be written so “that any non-active component in a multiple-use occupancy would be ancillary clearly subordinate and secondary to the active use.”

To that end, staff has suggested “two major changes.”

The first would limit any non-active component such as subleased professional office space or personal services “to occupy a more minor amount of the tenant space,” with active use occupying at least 60% of the square footage of the tenant space, compared to the 25% currently allowed.

The second change would locate non-active uses “in the rear of the tenant space or otherwise be located so as to not be prominent or visible from the street.”

In lieu of staff recommendation, the council could also “opt to specify a different balance of active and non-active uses that may be allowed, or disallow any non-active component within a ground floor space altogether unless approved through another type of exception.”

Staff pointed out “retaining some degree of flexibility to accommodate uses that have active and non-active components is likely to be beneficial for businesses and landlords, and promote occupancy of Main Street spaces,” and that “such mixed operations should be able to maintain consistency with the policy intent of the overlay.”

The council will deliberate over the current policy and provide direction on Tuesday before staff is expected to develop and return with a draft policy for adoption at a later date. Stakeholder groups like the Pleasanton Downtown Association and Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce will be consulted as part of the process.

In other business

* The city’s draft two-year operating budget and four-year capital improvement program (CIP) will undergo a review on Tuesday. Individual presentations for both items will be given, followed by a related public hearing that evening.

Every two years, the council and staff go over estimated expenditures and revenues for various projects under the CIP before formally adopting the final budget. The process also gives the opportunity for public comment, receiving additional information or direction, and addressing any lingering questions about the budget.

Budget expenditures “are $195.1 million and $205.9 million, respectively, for the operating budget, and $28.4 million and $16 million for the capital improvement program” during fiscal years 2021-22 and 2022-23, according to a staff report.

The budget includes a “comprehensive detailed account, forecast and plan” of the city’s entire revenues and expenditures, including the general fund as well as enterprise, capital, internal service and special revenue funds.

The city’s operating budget deals mostly with ongoing operating expenses and revenues such as programs, routine maintenance and personnel costs, while the CIP handles one-time larger scale infrastructure improvements and expansion projects and does not include any personnel related expenses.

Both the CIP and two-year operating budget documents contain information about budgetary issues, opportunities and goals, with a focus on “areas deemed by the City Council to be high priority.”

Staff said, “As a result, the budget maintains existing service levels and meets capital needs in a way that addresses not only new programs and capital projects, but a wide range of maintenance projects related to roadways, parks, water, and sewer systems. In this way it meets council, community, and staff goals.”

Some big-ticket items listed in the CIP include transportation and street infrastructure projects like annual sealing and resurfacing on a number of local roadways, repairing the area around West Las Positas Boulevard and Tassajara Road, and improvements at the intersection of Hopyard Road and Owens Drive, Bernal Avenue and First Street, and on Nevada Street.

Numerous bicycle and pedestrian improvements are also included such as building the Old Vineyard Avenue Trail and adding bike lanes throughout the city. Other items listed include softball field house and booth renovations, as well as annual playground upgrades.

In total, the city cited more than $40.63 million in transportation and street infrastructure projects, along with $5.9 million in parks projects.

Another $15.3 million is earmarked for miscellaneous projects such as fence installations, sound wall repair and replacement, finding a short-term parking solution at the ACE Station, and renovations at Centennial Towers Plaza. That budget also includes Phase 1 design of the Bernal Community Farm.

The council will receive and discuss staff’s findings on Tuesday before they are expected to vote on the final budget on June 15.