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City Desk: Apr. 2, 2014

City Desk

Last Tuesday’s City Council was certainly one of the year’s most significant. A study session prior to the meeting included the unveiling what might just be the first breakthrough in 50 years in long-stalled downtown revitalization, and the return of Wilson’s Bakery to the Old Quad. And the opening agenda item of the regular meeting was a plan that will finally open the doors of the new Northside Library.

Northside Library on Road to Completion

Almost three months after the new Santa Clara Northside library was supposed to open, and more than half a year after the county filed lawsuit over $19 million in RDA money used to build and furnish the library, the city has made a deal with the state department of finance that will allow the library to finally be completed and opened.

“I’m happy to report that in all our discussions with the State Controller’s and Attorney General’s office,” City Manager Julio Fuentes told the Council Tuesday, “that there’s been an acknowledgement that the $11.7 million bond proceeds we used, earmarked for the construction in 1999 and 2003, are funds that, even if they were returned, couldn’t be distributed to taxing entities because the bond covenants described that the money would be used for the construction of the library.”

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That leaves $8.8 million of former RDA tax revenue in question, of which the city is entitled to 10 percent in any case. The agreement with the DOF specifies that the city will create an escrow account for the remaining $7.2 million, comprised of $6.5 million earmarked for finishing construction, and $700,000 from the city’s Land Sale Reserve. The money will be distributed when the RDA dissolution questions are resolved. To finish and open the library in the meantime, the city will use $5 million from its Land Sale Reserve.

Wilson’s Bakery to Return as Part of New Downtown Development

For decades, Wilson’s Bakery was one of Santa Clara’s most familiar landmarks. When it closed nearly a decade ago, it was practically a day of mourning in the city. So people were delighted to hear that the family-owned downtown landmark will return as part of a new development unveiled at a City Council study session last week.

At the study session, Silicon Sage Builders returned with an entirely new design for the mixed-use development at 1313 Franklin St., which they first proposed in 2012. Now called Downtown Gateway, city officials hope will the development will spur revitalization of the downtown. City Planning Director Kevin Riley called it a “beta test for private developers on the site.”

The new development will have 44 one, two, three and four bedroom condominiums, 145 parking spaces at basement and street level, and 14,731 sf of first floor retail and commercial – which would include Wilson’s and a second restaurant. Although the plan is four stories, the fourth story, which would be the second floor of the larger condominiums, is significantly stepped back and not visible from the street. The former downtown included buildings 40 to 50 feet tall.

The 1.02-acre site lot is currently home to Neto’s Market & Grill, several large parking lots and two single-family houses. All of this would be demolished.

The new design includes many architectural details from the buildings that characterized the old downtown, such as bay windows, window arches, articulated rooflines, a grid street pattern with small setbacks, and central architectural features at the corners.

“Economically and financially, you need to bring a new population to downtown because those are the consumers who will support other businesses in the downtown,” said Silicon Sage project architect Erik Schoennauer. “Population matters. Density matters. Getting people there is what creates the vitality of the street.”

“This project will be solving a problem of huge proportions in this city,” said Council Member Patrick Kolstad, with a wink. “The lack of a Wilson’s bakery.” Kolstad said he couldn’t wait for the return of Wilson’s Spanish cookies.

On Monday, Silicon Sage held a neighborhood meeting to discuss the proposed design. The next step would be a request to Council for rezoning from Community Commercial to Mixed-Use Planned development.

U-Haul Zoning Reversion Approved

Last week the City Council unanimously approved a zoning reversion for 2121 Laurelwood Road back to light industrial from planned development. The property is at the corner where Laurelwood curves into Montague, and currently houses a discount furniture store. The new zoning will expired in December if there’s no development activity.

When the owner asked for the zoning change, the idea was to develop offices – which conforms with the 2010 General Plan – but there were no takers for that space.

“For the last two and a half years I’ve been working on this project,” said Rob Shannon of CBRE real estate. “We’ve marketed this to the most active developers in the valley, and gone after large corporate users. The consensus is that the access is problematic, and the [industrial] view to the east, combined with the inventory that’s on the market and in the pipeline, it’s just not viable.”

“It’s a property in need of a tenant,” said Fuentes. “It’s our job as staff is to look for the highest and best use. But it’s hard to turn your back on a tenant that’s paying rent versus what might be.”

“U-Haul has identified this site as a good site to service the community,” said U-Haul representative Jim Warren. “We like the site for its ease of access to 101. U-Haul is willing to accept conditions of approval and begin work right now.”

The company will remove trees currently interfering with the public right of way, create a new sidewalk and walkway among other businesses on Laurelwood, and update the façade and give it a more contemporary look. “We have been very successful with adaptive reuse,” noted Warren. U-Haul will also maintain the existing overflow parking agreement with the Biltmore Hotel, with direct access for hotel guests. And, observed Council Member Patricia Mahan, “it’s a sales tax business.”

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