Will the County Board of Supervisors Approve a General Plan Amendment to Pave the Way for Development of Seven Hills Ranch?Jun 10, 2022 08:28AM ● By Harper Klein
Spieker Development's proposal to build, Diablo Glen, an expansive senior development in the unincorporated area of Walnut Creek, continues to draw backlash and debate. A continuing care community, the project calls for construction of 354-housing units, a clubhouse, a recreation building, an 85,000-SQF health care facility for 100 residents, maintenance buildings, a parking garage, and 594 parking spaces on 30.4 acres of undeveloped land.
Located in unincorporated Walnut Creek, the development runs between Walden Road/Cherry Lane and North San Carlos Drive, surrounded by Seven Hills School and Heather Farm Park. According to the description filed by Spieker with the Contra Costa Department of Conversation & Development, approximately 353 existing trees will be removed and replaced with 1,078 trees.
“There’s a cruise ship coming to Walnut Creek,” says Michele Sheehan, who formed the community group Save Seven Hills Ranch two years ago in opposition to the project. “It will be moored next to Heather Farm Park amid low-lying suburban homes. It will require massive grading and leveling of the current idyllic landscape and the removal of 400 trees. It is preposterous for the County consultant’s report to conclude the project will not have an environmental impact.”
"We're seeking a revised plan, one that fits the surroundings, honors the current land use zoning, respects the natural topography, and appreciates the site’s location next to an existing park,” says Sheehan. Access for construction is proposed from Kinross Drive off Marchbanks, a two-lane street located within Walnut Creek city limits.
Troy Bourne, a partner at Spieker Senior Development, says the company has been looking for land in Walnut Creek for over thirty years. “Residents of continuing care communities are attracted to quiet neighborhoods where they can walk and conveniently access medical care and shopping. We feel the Seven Hills Ranch property is best suited to meet the needs of the city’s retirees.”
Along with a General Plan Amendment changing the land use designation from Single-Family Residential, Medium Density to Multiple-Family Residential, Congregate Care, the project requires an encroachment permit from the City of Walnut Creek to allow primary access from Kinross Drive.
Best known regionally for Stoneridge Creek in Pleasanton, other Spieker Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC) can be found in Carlsbad, San Juan Capistrano, Thousand Oaks, Scripps Ranch, and Fullerton. Bourne says 600-700 “families” (900 singles and couples) have already signed up for a residence at Diablo Glen—ranging from small apartments to larger stand-alone homes. “We have never seen anything like this in early demand and we’ve been doing this for over three decades,” says Bourne.
Entrance fees at Diablo Glen range from $500K to $2 million, depending on the type of home selected, with monthly fees $5,000-$8,000 per month. “Everyone has to be independent and healthy when they move in, but our life plan model allows seniors to plan for the future and access long term care as their needs change.” Most of the people (60+ years old) who have signed up are local, says Bourne, living in nearby condos or downsizing from big homes in Lamorinda.
To date, close to 3700 County residents have signed a petition in opposition to the project, which is expected to reach the Planning Commission in September. If approved, rearrangement and grading of the property is anticipated to take four years for soil removal and construction.
Supporters of the project suggest Walnut Creek needs more senior housing, particularly with an option for continuing care. "Walnut Creek has done an excellent job providing for its senior citizens,” says Sheehan. She points to the 175+units at Viamonte and a second newly-approved 250+ unit Oakmont community in Shadelands, both offering access to continuing care, along with the 6500 senior housing units in Rossmoor. “There’s no shortage of housing in Walnut Creek for seniors who need specialized living arrangements.”