By Ashly McGlone
SAN RAMON -- Plans approved by the Planning Commission on Tuesday that would replace old office buildings with new townhomes and live-work spaces will be appealed by the mayor.
Mayor Bill Clarkson opposed the Ryan Industrial Court project when it came to the council April 23, saying the location at the end of a cul-de-sac in a commercial area would not provide a good neighborhood for residents. At the time, developer ACRE Investment Co. sought to build 48 townhome units alone, requiring a change in zoning and an amendment to the city's general plan.
After failing to get approval, the project was changed to include six live-work units and 42 townhomes to meet the existing mixed use zoning code. The commission approved the re-envisioned project in a 4-0 vote Tuesday, with one commissioner absent, clearing the way for construction unless appealed to the council in the next 10 days.
Now, 11 months, eight public hearings and two planning commission approvals later, the project will face another hurdle.
"It's our job not just to build housing, but to build neighborhoods," said Clarkson, who has worked as a real estate broker in the area for 35 years. "It is a very isolated commercial area, and it's on a steep 10 percent slope. I don't think it is a family-friendly area to build housing."
But commissioners -- who spent more than two hours hashing out past concerns and project details -- said projects like this meet the call for "smart growth" through infill rather than sprawl development and can't be expected to provide large recreation areas in limited spaces.
A proposal by Commissioner Harry Sachs Jr. to remove two townhomes to provide more open space near the tot-lot play area failed to get the support of enough commissioners to proceed. Others said recreation areas may be built nearby in the future, and this is just the beginning. Current neighbors of the site include a church, a ballet studio, a commercial building and other offices.
Built in the late 1970s, the two office buildings to be demolished currently have a 30 to 35 percent vacancy rate, said Thomas Schulz, a partner with ACRE Investment.
Approval didn't come without cost to the developer. ACRE Investment agreed to 155 conditions, among them, paying $2.25 per square foot in fees, a portion of which will go into a fund to assist moderate- or low-income first-time homebuyers with their down payment. The developer also agreed to help create and pay a new community facilities district special tax, estimated to cost at least $495 per unit, to offset the cost of city services for residents, city documents state.
As for the live-work units, businesses would be allowed to see clients by appointment only and operate between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Attorneys, real estate agents, financial advisers and architects might be types of tenants interested in the units, which offer office space at the front of the complex and living quarters on a separate floor, city staff members said.
Ashly McGlone covers San Ramon. Contact her at 510-293-2463. Follow her at Twitter.com/AshlyReports.