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Commission Recommends general plan change to make way for Controversial Retail-Residential Development

Proponents of the Mission Town Square development could get their way following the Santa Clara Planning Commission’s vote to alter the city’s general plan to allow construction to move forward.

The council chambers was standing room only Thursday night. Those on both sides of the debate squared off during the public comments, trading verbal ripostes for nearly three hours. In the end, however, the commission voted to recommend the City Council alter the general plan to accommodate the Irvine Company, the developer proposing the project located at the confluence of El Camino Real and Benton Street near the CalTrain station.

“The design of this project is greedy. Its density grossly and unapologetically exceeds the General Plan. It would swallow up one of our streets,” said Paul Rebello. “It is a behemoth. This building would be a defiant middle finger to our neighborhood. This development does not have the pulse of our neighborhood.”

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The $200-million project would put 385 apartments above retail space and two public plazas in Santa Clara’s downtown, an area often referred to as the Old Quad neighborhood. If approved, the project would be in a newly designated “very high density” area and relocate two homes at 3310 and 3470 The Alameda.

Carlene Matchniff, vice president of entitlements and public affairs, and Steven Kellenburg, senior vice president of community planning, represented the Irvine Company at the meeting. Since Irvine has designated 10 percent of the apartments in the development as low-income and the site is near public transportation, the two claimed the development would be a boon for the poor and the environment alike.

Matchniff said the company has been working with area residents to resolve conflicts surrounding the project; many of which have to do with water use, the height of the buildings, the density of the area — a density that was part of the amendment to the General Plan. As a result of these talks, she said the project reduced the height of the project from five-stories to three and four stories.

However, not everyone shared their enthusiasm. Many of those who spoke said they supported development, but the current plan, even in its amended state, would still ruin the neighborhood’s character.

The Historical Landmarks Commission rejected the project. Jeannie Mahan, who sits on that commission, urged the planning commission to also reject it.

“When the Irvine company reports that the plans have been modified substantially, I don’t really see that,” she said. “This project impacts our city really for the rest of our lives. This development will shadow the Old Quad for years and years.”

Members of the public went tit for tat during the public comments section. The back and forth amounted to two basic points: those in favor of the development said Santa Clara’s downtown is in need of revitalization and that the project will bring much-needed jobs and improve a long-decayed area of town. Meanwhile, many opponents of the project said they are not adverse to development, but that the current plan erodes the cultural character of the neighborhood by increasing the urban density to a degree inconsistent with the village-like feel of the neighborhood.

Brian Goldenberg, a Santa Clara resident, called the development the “key to revitalizing” the city.

“The Old Quad does have its own character,” said Janet Stevenson, another Santa Clara resident. “I don’t understand why we need to change the General Plan and wipe out a whole neighborhood.”

Although Matchniff said the Irvine Company has reached out to neighbors of the proposed development, Donna Marencia, president of the Santa Clara Woman’s Club located on The Alameda, said nobody reached out to her group. She said she is concerned with how the construction will affect the group’s building.  

The planning commission approved a recommendation that the City Council alter the General Plan to accommodate. Still, some planning commissioners took issue with certain aspects of the project.

Commissioner Raj Chahal voted against all but one of the five proposals, and Commissioner Michael O’Halloran voted against two of the five proposals.

“It seems like every development wants an amendment, so I question whether we are following the General Plan,” O’Halloran said.

Planning Commission Chair Debra Costa abstained from the discussion on the project and removed herself from the council chambers because her home is close enough to the development to create a conflict of interest.

The matter will come before the City Council at its Feb. 23 meeting for approval.

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