By Meghan Hall
The suburb of Pleasant Hill has long fought density, but City officials are beginning to recognize it as an increasing necessity as the demand for housing continues to grow. In March, the City Council officially approved The Cleaveland House near Pleasant Hill’s downtown core. The Council greenlit the 189-unit project—even approving a development exemption for its height— despite expressions of opposition from the community.
“Having lived near that area since 2005, I’ve seen how the downtown transitioned and struggled at times, particularly the retail part,” explained Ryan McNamara, vice president of development for Blake Griggs Properties. “…I know that to have a thriving retail center in a downtown core, what is most important is critical mass and foot traffic.”
The project is located at 85 Cleaveland Rd. Proposed by a limited liability company affiliated with San Francisco-based Gemdale Properties and Danville, Calif.-based Blake Griggs Properties, the development would become the second tallest building in Pleasant Hill, rising four-and-a-half stories, or about 62 feet in height. By comparison, Pleasant Hill’s largest building, an office known as The Terraces, rises 73 feet in height. Under current zoning, Pleasant Hill has a 50-foot height limit, requiring the project team to apply for an exemption.
Initially, the project was supposed to rise five full stories, but in an effort to appease community concerns, Gemdale Properties and Blake Griggs eliminated the fifth floor, along with 21 units, to bring down the project’s scale.
Floor plans within the development will range from 561 square feet to 1,182 square feet. 19 of the units will be designated as affordable for moderate income residents, specifically targeting “missing middle” earners such as teachers, firefighters and those in other, service-based occupations. The project will also feature a number of amenities. A large “front porch” will greet residents, and three separate courtyards and an outdoor deck are expected to provide plenty of access to outdoor space. A lap pool, outdoor kitchen and dining areas, as well as lounges, a fire pit and pet lounge are part of the project’s exterior offerings. Inside, residents will have access to a fitness center and clubroom. Onsite parking will also be provided.
With its housing, easy access to public transportation and downtown location, some residents were in support of the project. Many believed it to be necessary to further activate Pleasant Hill as it continued to grow.
“Being a resident of Pleasant Hill for over 30 years, I believe this project would benefit our city and community tremendously,” wrote Sam Yowakim. Another resident stated that “more rooftops” were needed to generate economic benefit for the City and residents of Pleasant Hill.
While some members of the community favored the development, others were quite vocal in their opposition. Many community members claimed that the development would negatively impact their property values and the scale of the project does not fit well within Pleasant Hill’s existing low-rise communities.
“We are asking you to please maintain the small scale, small town community environment in our neighborhood,” wrote Gail Otten and Stewart Michie, who contended the project needed to be scaled down to less than 20 percent of its proposed size. “Building a high-density apartment complex does not fit in this neighborhood and will have a negative effect on our property values.”
A Planning Commission vote in February on the project also recommended the Council reject the development, recommending that projects should continue to adhere to the original zoning and General Plan restrictions. The Planning Commission believed that the way development operated in downtown—historically—had been successful, and was hesitant to approve a project outside of the original scope, even though the City of Pleasant Hill has recently embarked on creating a new General Plan.
Despite these recommendations, however, the Council largely recognized that times were changing; the City would need to begin considering denser development to keep up with housing demands and allocations. The Council voted 4-1 to certify the project’s Final Environmental Impact Report, a General Plan Amendment and a Development Plan Permit, among other approvals, allowing the project to move forward.