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Approval of General Plan Zoning Changes Hit a Snag

With the zoning code updates approved in December, the Santa Clara Planning Commission was tasked on May 22 with approving zoning changes for individual parcels of land and making minor tweaks to the code’s language. It was supposed to be an easy fix without much debate, but it turned into a lot more.

State law requires that each parcel in a city be consistent with the zoning code. City staff identified 607 parcels that needed zoning changes. However, one public speaker contested one of the changes because it pertained to a property he was in the process of buying.

The speaker had recently purchased 1550 Lafayette Street as a mixed-use building. His plan was to turn it into a dance studio for his wife. However, the building next door at 1570 Lafayette Street was abandoned and the speaker felt combining the two parcels would be best.


He was well into the process of purchasing the property when he found out that the City planned to change the zoning of 1570 Lafayette Street from commercial to low-density residential. There would be no change to the parcel at 1550 Lafayette Street.

The man implored the commission not to rezone the property.

While commissioners were open to leniency, City staff said their hands were tied. The changes had to be made to conform with state law. Furthermore, the land could not be grandfathered in under the old general plan.

When asked what action the man could take, City staff explained that the man would have to apply for a general plan amendment and rezoning, which would cost nearly $45,000 in municipal fees.

City staff explained that municipal fees could not be waived.

Upon further discussion, city staff raised another solution. The man could ask that his parcel be included in the El Camino Real Specific Plan, most of which includes mixed-use parcels. By doing this, the city would cover the man’s fees for a general plan amendment and rezoning as part of the El Camino Real Specific Plan.

However, the man would have to wait until early next year to receive certain City approvals since nothing could happen until the El Camino Real Specific Plan was approved by the City Council.

While City staff hopes to bring that document before Council early next year, there is no set timeline and no guarantee that it will be approved.

After a lengthy discussion, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the Council approve the updated zoning map with the amendment that 1550 and 1570 Lafayette Street be included in the El Camino Real Specific Plan.

The debate did not end there. The commissioners also disagreed on the issue of stepbacks. City staff wanted to include a zoning code amendment that would require stepbacks in single-family homes.

Some commissioners argued against the requirement, saying it made the assumption that there is only one school of design in homebuilding, which would discount some of the more modern architectural styles. Other commissioners felt the stepbacks made buildings look better.

Ultimately, the commission voted to recommend that the Council approve City staff’s code changes to both setbacks and stepbacks. Commissioners Priya Cherukuru and Qian Huang voted no.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the Council adopt the zoning code map consistent with the City’s general plan land use diagram.

Study Session on AB 1033 Regulating Sales of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

Assistant City Attorney Xander Abbe explained AB 1033 to commissioners. It’s a state Assembly bill that allows cities to create an ordinance allowing the sale of ADUs separate from the sale of main homes.

Prior to the bill going into effect, the ADUs could only be sold under certain circumstances and needed to involve nonprofits (such as Habitat for Humanity) and be sold to low-income families. These sales included deed restrictions.

AB 1033 was introduced in 2023 with the idea of offering lower-cost housing that could help people enter the home ownership market for the first time. It does not require that the homes be constructed by nonprofits or sold to low-income families.

Abbe told the commission it would essentially create condos out of single-family home locations.

Separating the properties for the purpose of separate sales would require other legal hoops for homeowners, such as creating a condo association and written consent from all property lienholders before any sale.

The Commission voted 6-1 to make a recommendation to the Council that it does not adopt an ordinance pursuant to AB 1033. Commissioner Huang voted no.

Even if the Council creates an ordinance, it would still need to go through the Planning Commission first since it deals with a land use matter.

Planning Commission Consent Calendar

The Commission voted to approve the meeting minutes from June 14, 2023, March 6, 2024 and April 17, 2024.

Commissioners asked why the meeting minutes from June of last year were included in the current consent calendar. City staff said it was, at times, short staffed and staff was finally able to get these minutes prepared for consent. They said this is not unusual.

Commissioner Lance Saleme reported on his virtual attendance at the national planning APA meeting. He said the training was very good; however, he would make the request that they schedule on Pacific Time instead of Central Time next year.

The next Planning Commission meeting is Wednesday, June 12 at 6 p.m. in City Council Chambers.


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