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City Desk: Jan. 29, 2014

Planning Commission Approves Laurelwood Site Return to Light Industrial Zoning

At its Jan. 15 meeting, the Santa Clara Planning Commission unanimously approved a development proposal for the property at 2121 Laurelwood Road – currently a furniture store – that would allow the property to be leased to U-Haul.

The project involves an interior conversion and expansion, exterior renovation of the existing building, construction of two new storage buildings, new landscaping, and new sidewalk (the parcel doesn’t currently have one).

The project is of interest because in 2012 the Santa Clara City Council approved a development proposal for an office complex and a zoning change to Planned Development (PD) on the seven-acre parcel. This proposal was conformed to the city’s 2010 General Plan.

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Then in Oct. 2013, the property owner asked for a rezoning back to light industrial (ML). The reason was that there were no prospective tenants for the office complex. However, U-Haul was interested in the property. Jim Lorimer of SPI holdings said at that time “We’ve had a rough ride…We’ve had no call from tenants” for the planned office project.

“We’re asking that our PD zoning be terminated so that U-Haul company, that has a redevelopment proposal for the property, can move forward in a more timely basis.” In any case, if the office project isn’t started by Dec. 2, 2014, the property reverts back to the previous light industrial zoning designation.

The Santa Clara Planning Dept., however, recommended against approval because the General Plan designation for the project site and adjacent properties is low-intensity/office R&D, and small-scale retail. Other properties nearby the 101/Montague interchange are zoned for high-rise or campus offices.

“Along with the bold aesthetic alterations proposed with new construction, outdoor storage of rental moving trucks and vehicles do not complement existing or planned uses for the project area in both aesthetics and use,” said the staff report on the project.

The Planning Commission took the view, however, that a bird in hand was worth more than – in this case – none in the bush.

When the first proposal for a change in zoning came before them, the Planning Commission had liked the office development idea, according to Commission Chair Ian Champeny.

“But if no one is willing to move in there, then you have nothing,” he noted. “I saw that they had been actively marketing this property [the office development] and just weren’t successful. It was formerly light industrial and it was going to revert to that at the end of the year regardless. So why wait?”

“We looked at the environmental documents and they address all the issues that needed to be addressed,” he continued. If you wait, you could have nothing at all – just an empty lot and some old buildings. No alternatives had been presented. With U-Haul, we’d have some revenue coming in. We don’t want to ignore an opportunity because we’d like something else.”

There have been no objections from neighboring businesses to the U-Haul plan, and the new proposal will go forward to the City Council in the near future.

Forgotten Historic Treasure Slated for Renovation and Restoration

City Council Member Patricia Mahan calls it “one of the best-kept secrets in Santa Clara.” That secret is the Lick Mansion at 4101 Lick Mill Boulevard. At the Jan. 14 Council meeting the Council approved rezoning for the five-acre property that will allow a 120-student pre-school in the mansion property, as well as a film production and art studio in the Granary building on the property.

The current zoning – Historic Combining District (HT) – currently only allows for non-medical professional offices. The owner, Jenny Wang, is asking for additional allowed uses, not a zoning change.

The Lick Mill property is important historically for its associations with James Lick, one of California’s most important early citizens, who at the time of his death at 90 in 1876, was reputedly the richest man in California. He left most of his wealth to social and scientific causes.

At different times, the property also housed a major flour mill, paper mill, and chemical works. The property is also important architecturally because it contains several major early buildings, including the almost 9,000 sf Italianate mansion (8,782 square feet) and 6,000 sf round brick granary. The property has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1982. At one time it was home to the Centre for Living With Dying.

The use change would allow for adaptive reuse of a historic landmark. The renovation proposal includes a full rehabilitation of the Lick Mansion and Granary, in compliance with the Secretary of Interior Standards for Rehabilitation Historic Buildings. The work would be funded entirely with private money.

Because of the mansion’s significance to the Santa Clara’s history, the original section built by James Lick will be given a higher level of treatment, and work will focus on restoring key features to the earliest period of significance. The plan also includes an outdoor interpretative panel, and a provision to provide full public access to the property for two quarterly tours of the “primary character-defining rooms of the mansion.” Currently, there is no public access to the property.

The one objection to the project – to the pre-school proposal – came from Prometheus Development, which owns the apartments that border the project. “This is the first time we’re being presented with the proposed use,” Prometheus representative Melody Roberts told the Council. “There are some logistics we are hopeful to discuss with the applicant. There are still quite a few logistics that we have not been able…to discuss.”

In answer, project architect Gil Sanchez said that the feared traffic increase was a straw man. “We believe that many of the children coming there will be coming from the apartments.”

Single-Family Home Infill Project Approved for Homestead Road

There are few places in Santa Clara south of Highway 101 that have room to accommodate single family detached houses. One of them is a parcel, slightly less than one acre, hiding behind 3051 Homestead Road.

At its Jan. 14 meeting, the City Council approved a rezoning of the property to Planned Development (PD), that will allow Peninsula Communities to build nine single-family houses on the parcel between Pomeroy Ave. and Peppertree Lane, on east side of Homestead. The proposal includes adding a sidewalk on Homestead, where currently there is none.

Currently the property is zoned agricultural, but is unused. The project was approved by both the Planning and Historical and Landmarks Commission. The houses will be 1,400 to 1,800sf, with two car garages. The architecture will be a mix of Mission and Craftsman style. There will only be two guest parking spaces, and driveways won’t be long enough to park additional cars.

Neighborhood Solar Program Goes to St. Justin’s and Our Lady of Peace

Silicon Valley Power (siliconvalleypower.com) recently announced that Our Lady of Peace Parish and St Justin’s Parish were the latest recipients of its Neighborhood Solar Program (NSP), which provides grants to community non-profits for implementing solar energy programs. The systems will increase the renewable energy generated within Santa Clara, and benefit the community because every dollar saved in electricity costs can be re-invested into the churches’ community service programs.

St Justin’s anticipates a significant savings from the solar installation, according to Parish Administrator Dorothy Carlson. In addition to its K-8 school, St. Justin’s operates an extensive social services program year round – serving 3,000 people a month through its food pantry and meal programs.

SVP initiated the Neighborhood Solar Program in 2002. Program funds come from the Santa Clara Green Power (SCGP) program, with $2 of every $15 Renewable Energy Credit purchased reserved for NSP. Nominations for the program come from SVP staff as well as customers who donate directly to the program.

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