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City Desk: Mar. 5, 2014

Zoning Change Request For Granny Unit Becomes the Latest Proxy Discussion on Growth of Off-Campus Housing in Old Quad

Can you say “Morse Mansion?” No, the historic house-turned-sorority-house wasn’t on last Tuesday’s City Council agenda.

But the conversion of houses in the Old Quad into off-campus dormitories for Santa Clara University is a discussion that the Santa Clara City Council needs to have. Why? Because the fact that it isn’t being discussed directly is turning every renovation/rezoning request in the Old Quad into a proxy discussion on the question.

That’s what happened at last week’s meeting, when the Council was asked to vote on a zoning change for a Lafayette Street property to allow a new two-car garage to be built, with a 639 sf “accessory” living unit – basically a one-bedroom apartment – on top, as well as a 375 sf addition to the 1,565 sf house. It has always been a single-family house, and is owned by a young couple expecting their first child, who plan to live in the main house and possibly rent the accessory unit.

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The original house was built in 1951, making it subject to review by the Historical and Landmarks Commission. (Last year the Council decided that until an historic preservation ordinance comes forward, any renovation on property over 50 years old is subject to H&L review).

Sometime later, a shed was built in the backyard that encroaches on the property line with an historic property. The new garage would replace the shed, and be set back five feet from the property line. The lot size, 6,500 sf, is less than the 7,000 sf required by the 2010 General Plan for a single family home with an accessory unit. There was some discussion of whether the setback from the neighboring house was sufficient.

The H&L’s opinion was that the Council approve the add-on to the house and the new garage, but not the accessory unit. However, officially the H&L couldn’t officially recommend anything to the Council because it didn’t have a majority vote approving it. The Planning Commission approved the project 4-2 with or without the accessory unit.

“We have single family homes being turned into de-facto multiple-family dwellings,” said Council Member Patricia Mahan, who has become the standard-bearer against creeping dormitory-ization. “In the past projects have come before City Council with the understanding that it was to be owner-occupied and then [it] became student housing.”

Noting that other cities such as Menlo Park have ordinances regarding similar “granny” units, she said, “We need some tools to start preserving these areas.” Mahan then made a motion to approve the garage and addition to the house, but not the accessory unit, which failed.

The Old Quad dormitory-ization discussion may have been triggered by the fact that, with the addition, the house will have five bedrooms without any increase in common area space. However, the Council can’t deny a zoning change or project based on the floor plan.

“We cannot take into account the fact that something may be student housing, which is extremely discriminatory,” said Council Member Lisa Gillmor, who has made that same point in several past discussions about new projects and renovations when objections have arisen because students would be the occupants.

“I don’t think any of us up here are ignoring the impacts,” interjected Mayor Jamie Matthews, asking the Council to return to the motion before it. In the end the Council approved the rezoning to allow the accessory unit in a 4-2 vote, with Mahan and O’Neill opposing. The Council then asked the City Attorney for a report on other cities’ ordinances about accessory units and boarding houses.

Pomeroy Ave. Apt Complex Gets Go-Ahead to Expand

The Council unanimously approved another re-zoning measure on the agenda Tuesday night: a request to allow the addition of 20 new one-bedroom apartments to an existing 51-unit complex at 865 Pomeroy Ave. between Homestead Road and Brookdale Drive. The total property is slightly over two acres, and the new building would be on space now occupied by a swimming pool. Currently, the complex doesn’t have any one-bedroom apartments.

The 2010 General Plan permits 19-36 units/acre, noted Santa Clara Planning Director Kevin Riley, so the zoning change would conform to the General Plan. The Planning Commission approved the re-zoning at its Jan.15 meeting. The parking ratio would remain the same, with 125 parking spaces.

“We’ve worked with city staff to come up with a project that meets the needs of the owners, and the needs of the neighborhood,” said owner Dennis Chargin’s representative Kurt Kozlowski. “We believe we have come up with a plan that works for everybody.”

“How much open space is going to be left?” asked O’Neill. The pool was old and not much used, replied Kozlowski, noting, “There’s the aquatic center right down the street.” In addition, the project will include new landscaping, enhancing the park area, and adding a recreational area. “Two thirds of the open space remains,” added Riley.

Convention Center Maintenance Agreement – Peace at Last

Last Tuesday the Council approved an agreement with Mike Davis Landscape Services for the 2014-2016 Site Sweeping Services at the Convention Center Complex. There have been several disagreements in the past between Techmart and the City about the amount the City assesses the property for maintenance. The Hyatt Regency Hotel Santa Clara, Equity Office (Techmart), and Santa Clara Convention Center have approved the new agreement.

Golf Course Business Disruption

The question of what’s due to businesses on Tasman as work proceeds to prepare the golf course for stadium parking continues to be an issue. “Quite a few of those individuals [businesses] are suffering,” said Santa Clara resident Steve Overton.

“Members of the 49ers organization, they promised a lot of things, and a lot of those things haven’t come true.” Noting that he had no personal business interests in the golf course area – he’s a Captain in the Merchant Marine – he concluded, “I ask that the people over there be approached fairly…in a compensatory way. There are a lot of people being affected.”

At present, there’s no plan for compensating Tasman businesses for disruptions caused by the renovation work, according to city spokesman Dan Beerman.

In other business:

  • Revenues are up at the Santa Clara Convention Center – $848,000 over budget, according to the Convention Center’s Q2 2013-2014 financial report. However, so are expenses by $350,000. That still adds up to $498,000 more profit for the city as of Dec. 31, 2013.
  • The city’s new marketing committee met for first time on Feb. 19. The committee will meet monthly on third Wed. of the month at 4 p.m. at the Central library. More details will follow about how residents’ can provide their input about what makes Santa Clara unique – in marketing parlance, Santa Clara’s “brand.” In the meantime, the committee meetings are public meetings and anyone can attend.
  • During the public comment part of the Council meeting, one speaker requested that, as Santa Clara grows into a thriving hub of Silicon Valley affluence, the city not turn its back on “the needs of those who are less fortunate – the homeless. Is there something else…that could possibly end this [homelessness in the city] altogether?” he asked. The Council asked that City staff follow up on the services available to the homeless.
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