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City Desk: Mar. 26, 2014

Franklin Post Office to Stay…

The big news at last Tuesday’s Santa Clara City Council meeting was that the Franklin Street post office would remain open. “It gives me great pleasure to be able to deliver this important news, said Santa Clara Post Master Andy Ioane, “[and]…to state officially that our district manager has decided not to move forward with the sale of the post office. It will remain where it is, as the center of our community”

“It’s amazing news,” said Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Mathews. The downtown post office has been an anchor and the only building that remains in our old downtown.”

Since rumors first surfaced over a year ago that the Franklin post office would close and be sold, civic leaders and residents have been working to keep the post office open. Ken Sinclair, of the Downtown Merchants Association, garnered over 6,000 signatures for a petition, and the city sent two letters to the postal service urging them not to close the facility.

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… Plastic Bags to Go

Last September, the City Council tasked the Public Works Dept. with the first steps toward city ordinances banning single-use plastic bags and polystyrene foam food containers. After public meetings and an online survey, the DPW found that most residents – 54 percent of 185 people who responded to the survey – had no objections a plastic bag ban. The major objection that the city heard was the inconvenience of having to always to remember to bring a bag when they went shopping.

At the Council meeting, a few people questioned the underlying premise that banning single-use plastic bags would reduce visual trash, as well as the un-biodegradable bags clogging storm drains and filling up landfills. However, the majority spoke in support of the ban. There was no opposition to the polystyrene foam food container ban.

In any case, the state legislature is re-introducing a statewide ban on plastic bags (SB- 270), which, if passed, would make the question moot.

However, the City Council voted unanimously to direct city staff to develop ordinances to ban plastic bags, similar to those in neighboring cities. It will exempt protective bags for meat and produce, dry cleaner bags, carryout bags from restaurants, and clear plastic bags for security purposes. It will also include the same $0.10 mandatory charge for paper bags, which will go to retailers – which, for big retailers that can add up to a significant revenue stream.

The polystyrene food container ban will first apply to large food vendors and later to small vendors.

Monroe Car Lot to Become Mixed Use Development

At the Mar. 18 meeting, the Council unanimously approved rezoning that will allow a four-storey mission-style, mixed used development by Santa Clara-based Silicon Sage Builders on what is currently a car lot at Monroe and El Camino.

“The project is in compliance with mixed use [planned] on El Camino,” said City Manager Julio Fuentes. Further, he said, the design complements other new developments in the area, and elevates an under-utilized piece of property to its “highest and best use.”

The 0.67-acre development, Madison Place, will include 6,500 sf of commercial and office space – Silicon Sage will occupy one – with 28 for-sale condominiums above. Three of the units will be offered at below-market “affordable” prices.

The project includes “generous” parking for both residents and retail tenants under the building, said project architect Erik Schoennauer. The development will be screened from the single-family homes backing it on Madison Street, and upper floors will be stepped back to avoid shadowing neighboring homes. Further, the mission style buildings’ exterior will be varied, to avoid a blocky, monolithic look.

The development is a textbook study in “new urbanism” with its front-door proximity to Santa Clara County’s busiest bus line (the #22), and easy walk-ability to retail businesses, Santa Clara University, and elementary and middle schools.

Because we live in a less-than-perfect world, there has to be one bump in the road: the house on the property that has been used as an office, which has some historic value.

However, there is some confusion about when it was built. The historical report by David J Powers & Assoc. places it in the1890s as part of the development of the area at that time. But Honorary City Historian Lori Garcia’s opinion was that its ownership and location points to the 1860s. The building has been so renovated and changed that clarifying that point would require “a significant amount of destructive testing,” said the report.

It was the judgment of the Santa Clara Historical and Landmarks Commission that since the structure had been moved, and undergone so much alteration that it lacked any historical integrity, its principal value was for any construction materials that could be salvaged.

Silicon Sage agreed to wait at least two months before any demolition, to allow salvage of any of the house’s furnishings. Construction is expected to begin in about three months.

45 Buckingham/66 Saratoga Development Project Gets Going Again

After several months delay because of a CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) challenge to a development proposal for four acres that run from Buckingham Drive to Saratoga Avenue, near Stevens Creek Boulevard, the developer, Prometheus Real Estate Group, has reached an agreement with the law firm Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo that will enable the proposal for a 222-unit apartment complex to go forward.

The project requires a zoning change from the General Plan designation of Commercial Thoroughfare (CT) to Planned Development (PD) residential. The location would not be good for retail because the developer couldn’t acquire the lots facing Stevens Creek that would make retail work for the development. The area is currently home to small retail – including the Hot Stuff and Smoke Stuff shops – small auto repair businesses, a bar, and two huge parking lots.

The environmental questions were primarily about possible toxic substances in the soil on the site – the legacy of the area’s agricultural history – and the exposure of workers to them when the existing structures and parking lot are demolished. Noise, traffic and disruption caused by the construction were a second concern.

Prometheus has come to an agreement with Adams Broadwell about mitigation measures, which will be included in the final project plan. There’s already an exhaustive discussion of environmental mitigation measures in the project proposal.

Located between 45 Buckingham Drive and 66 Saratoga Ave., the development features a contemporary design, and, in the intervening time since the first study session on the project in Oct. 2013, Prometheus has made some changes based on public input, said Prometheus spokesman Nathan Tuttle, adding, “I believe this will be the first market rate apartment building to achieve LEED Gold.”

The project will provide 222 market rate one- and two-bedroom apartments in four- story buildings that will wrap around parking (372 spaces, plus 116 secure bike parking spots) as well as an open courtyard.

To make the neighborhood more “street friendly,” the Saratoga-facing buildings will have stoops, and all aspects of the buildings are designed to be visually appealing – rather than a distinct “front” and “back” – the project’s chief architect told the Council. You can find the entire 323 agenda report on the project at tinyurl.com/45Buckinghamsc.

Lafayette Street Granny Unit To Be Reconsidered

The Council agreed to reconsider the zoning change request that it approved on Feb. 25, 2014 for a new garage with a “granny” unit on Lafayette Street in the Old Quad. The reason is that apparently additional information has come forward about the impact of the addition the neighboring property’s light. “I didn’t know about the light issue,” said Council Member Debi Davis in making the motion for reconsideration.

In other business, the Council approved a $4.4 million appropriation for replacing the El Camino’s street lighting with decorative LED lights, as well as new in-pavement crosswalk lights at some El Camino intersections without signals. The Council also approved $582,000 to clean up the Central Park pond.

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