189-unit apartment complex will be East Bay city’s second-tallest building

The Pleasant Hill City Council on Tuesday approved a proposal from Danville-based developer Blake/Griggs Properties to build 189 apartments at 85 Cleaveland Road in the city’s downtown area. (Rendering by KTGY Architecture + Planning)

By SHOMIK MUKHERJEE | smukherjee@bayareanewsgroup.com |

PLEASANT HILL — A new four-and-a-half story apartment complex will be the city’s second-tallest building and provide an “injection of humanity” downtown, a city councilman said as he joined in a vote to approve the project Monday night.

The 189-unit development at the site of a former Wells Fargo bank on Cleaveland Road will allow Pleasant Hill to densify its relatively quiet urban core with more multi-family housing. Only a nearby office complex will be a taller local presence than the 62-foot building, above the city’s current 50-feet building height limit.

There are several other ways the project will exceed Pleasant Hill’s existing standards, including density and parking-to-unit ratio, prompting the city’s planning commission last month to unanimously recommend the proposal be denied. But the City Council on Monday voted 4-1 to approve both the project and zoning amendments to accommodate it.

Several council members said that existing zoning regulations are an ill fit for the present moment as California stares down a housing crisis. And the developer promises that an influx of downtown apartments will revitalize Pleasant Hill’s economy.

“Having lived near that area since 2005, I have seen how the downtown has transitioned and struggled at times, particularly for the retail market,” said Ryan McNamara, a senior official at Blake/Griggs Properties of Danville. “I know that in order to have a thriving retail center and downtown core, the most important (part) is a critical mass (of residents) and foot traffic.”

While Blake/Griggs’ proposal earmarks nine units as low-income housing and 10 others as moderately affordable, the developer will primarily target steady-salaried millennials — professionals from their late 20s to early 40s with average incomes of $125,000 a year — as ideal tenants for the other apartments.

Exact rent prices for the apartments have not yet been determined, a Pleasant Hill senior planner said Tuesday. The development will include a lounge for tenants, as well as a swimming pool and roof deck that will occupy a half-story at the top of the building.

As part of the construction, officials will raze a two-story building that used to hold a Wells Fargo branch to make way for the complex. Project officials will improve the sidewalk on Cleaveland Road to make the neighborhood more walkable. They will also remove and replant more than 30 trees on the property.

And to secure the zoning changes, Blake/Griggs will contribute $250,000 to the city for a public benefit to be determined later.

The developer first proposed the project in 2018, and in the time since has lowered the scale of the complex in several ways, including a reduction in the number of units from over 200 to 189.

The property occupies the eastern edge of the city’s downtown area. One end of the complex will open into a large parking lot— where 261 spaces will be available to the apartments’ tenants, with an additional 43 spaces for guests — and the other three sides will face clusters of houses.

The Pleasant Hill City Council reviews a site map of a 189-unit housing complex during a meeting on Monday. (Screenshot) 

Residents who live near the property pleaded with the council on Monday to oppose the large-scale proposal, saying the development’s presence will tank their property values and diminish Pleasant Hill’s small-town feel.

“It’s out of character with the residential community, putting this huge complex next to our houses,” said one speaker, Dana Kearney, a 20-year Pleasant Hill resident who lives on Cleaveland Road near the site. “We just want something that meets the zone laws. The developer knew very well what the zoning laws were when he purchased that property.”

Dennis Kirkpatrick, another nearby resident, said the project would “destroy this neighborhood.”

“You wouldn’t be able to give away a property on this road, this area,” Kirkpatrick said. “More than anything else, my family (wants) to live in a small-town environment, not in some place where 200 apartments are jammed across the street.”

In response, Councilman Tim Flaherty suggested that the role of a citizen is to “subjugate your personal desires for what is best for the community as a whole.”

“That is what brings a community together, creates our identity and preserves our small-town feel — by recognizing that things change,” Flaherty said. “For our downtown to be successful, we need an injection of humanity. There needs to be more foot traffic, which is driven by residents who live within walking distance.”

Councilman Michael Harris dissented from the council’s vote, noting the apartments would not be in easy walking distance to the closest BART station, which is nearly 2 miles away. He sided with neighboring residents who said the complex was too large as proposed.

“I have never seen a project that requires as many amendments to our general plan as this one,” Harris said.

On the other hand, Mayor Sue Noack said it is important the council get a head start on densifying the city’s retail and commercial areas with multi-family apartments, since at some point California could begin mandating cities to build more housing to combat the statewide crisis.

“We either control it ourselves a bit,” Noack said, “or Sacramento is going to shove it down our throats in ways that we don’t want to see happen.”