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City Desk: June 25, 2014

City Desk

Irvine’s Santa Clara Square Redesign Marries Neighborhood Retail Office and Office Campus

What a difference a few years makes. Since the adoption of Santa Clara’s 2010 General Plan, the trend is away from high-intensity office development and towards pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use developments – sometimes called new urbanism or Walkable Urban Places (WalkUP).

At the June 10 meeting, the Santa Clara City Council approved rezoning that will allow the first phase of Irvine Company’s Santa Clara Square at Augustine Drive and Bowers to go forward, now as a combined office campus and retail center. In addition, the Council approved the project’s second and third phase designs for architectural review. When complete, the new development will increase the city’s property tax revenue by $600,000, create more than 800 construction jobs and over 5,800 permanent jobs.

The project was first approved in 2009 for 1,969,600 sf of office space and 35,000 sf of retail. The new design expands the retail space to 125,000 sf in a design that stresses walkability with open plazas and outdoor seating that bring people together – “place-making” – and provides restaurants and services that are sorely needed in the city as a whole, as well as Santa Clara’s business areas – including a specialty supermarket.

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Irvine’s new design will have additional pedestrian and bike connections, including pedestrian links to nearby offices. Subsequent phases will be largely new office space.

“This provides services for the area, and community development for the overall area,” said Santa Clara Planning Director Kevin Riley. “This is really is an opportunity to provide services to people who work in the area without getting in their cars. There are over 9,000 employees within walking distance.”

“It’s a much more balanced project,” said City Manager Julio Fuentes. “We now have significant neighborhood retail…[and]… a supermarket that’s brand new to Santa Clara, restaurants to provide more lunch and dining opportunities.”

However, Fuentes stressed, getting the development underway as soon as possible is critical to inking leases with potential tenants. Irvine hopes to begin construction this month, with completion in the fall of 2015.

UC Santa Cruz extension, adjacent to Santa Clara Square, has criticized the proposed development for its potential to block the view of the university’s sign, which is very visible now from 101. Further, the school asked the city to condition approval of the development on providing UCSC with 500 new parking spaces at no cost to the college.

This didn’t get any support from city officials. “I don’t think it would be appropriate to condition 500 parking spaces on the property without both parties having had opportunity to bargain it,” said Fuentes. “That would be tantamount to a ‘taking’ of private property – that’s what a no-cost lease amounts to.”

Goodbye Suburban Sprawl, Hello New Urban Spaces

New urban design is so rapidly becoming the prevailing model for development, that the authors of a new report by the George Washington University School of Business, “Foot Traffic Ahead,” declared the end of suburban sprawl, and a turning point “as significant as when historian Fredrick Jackson Turner proclaimed the ‘closing of the frontier’ in 1893.”

WalkUPs attract a more educated and higher earning population, and office space in them attracts more creative and knowledge-based businesses and commands higher rents, according to the report. This is of interest not only to real estate developers, but also to cities looking for economic growth and a smaller carbon footprint.

$14 Million for Affordable Housing, New Commission Appointments

At the June 10 meeting the Council approved committing roughly $6 million for affordable housing, in return for about $8 million in matching funds from the County of Santa Clara. The matching grant would actually come from Santa Clara’s former Redevelopment Agency’s affordable housing funds.

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