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Council, Planning Commission Begin Ironing Out Wrinkles in Massive City Center Development

Santa Clara City Council and Planning Commission members are concerned about the amount of latitude afforded to the developer of $6.5-billion mixed used development slated to break ground next year.

During a joint study session last Monday, the two committees discussed the finer points of a 39-acre city center project proposed by New York-based developer Related. The eight-phase project, which would not likely see completion until 2033, would bring 9 million square feet of hotels, restaurants, office and recreational space, and as many as 1,360 apartments or condos to the area near Levi’s Stadium where the BMX track and golf course sit.

The development would require the council to approve altering the city’s master plan to allow a mixed-used development in the area.

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Mayor Lisa Gilmore called the project the “biggest development we have ever encountered.”

However, despite all the benefits to an area many agree is in need of development, many issues surfaced during the discussion. Problems surrounding the timeline of the project, the amount of housing included in it, the layout of dedicated “green space,” traffic mitigation and public transit access were all points of contention.

Anna Shimko, an attorney for the City, told the committees that while Related has deadlines on completing phases, it is able to take phases out of order and shift the footprint of any phase by up to 20 percent based on “prevailing market forces.”

Gilmore expressed concern over the fate of the BMX track.

“Even though we may have said ‘hey it will be five years or 10 years down the line’ that may not be the case. It could be up to a year’s notice, maybe less,” she said. “We would have to be ready to relocate at a much short timeline.”

Further, Related would be able to opt for a scheme for the project that only includes 200 apartments or condos as opposed to 1,360. Schimko told the committees that the lower residential scheme is intended to act as a contingency plan, allowing the development to proceed regardless of state regulatory approval of residential development over a former landfill.

Still, not everyone was comfortable with the idea of committing to a project that may not in line with the city’s housing needs. Commissioner Yuki Ikezi said it is important to know the number of apartments or condos in the development before approving it.

“How can we move forward without knowing that? That is a critical question for everybody in this city,” she said.

Traffic, including access to public transit, was also discussed at great length.

Rajeev Batra, public works director, told the committees his department and Related have yet to agree on all the details about which streets will remain public and which will become private in light of the development but said, “a lot of progress has been made” on how to alleviate traffic.

Commissioner Suds Jain said he would like the Council to condition phase completion on meeting traffic targets.

Related VP, Steve Eimer, said his company is working closely with the Valley Transit Authority, Altamont Corridor Express, Bay Area Rapid Transit, and others to ensure accessibility to public transit in the area.

During the public comments section, Melissa Cerezo, senior planner for the Valley Transit Authority, said in order for Related’s project to be in line with the master community plan, Related must first adopt a “do-no-harm” approach to nearby transit operations, which would mean mitigating what Cerezo characterized as a “significant and unavoidable impact on transit travel times” as well as removing a provision to add a new crossing on Tasman.

Gina Soprato, with the parks and recreation department, told the committees that a project of this size would necessitate between 7.7 and 9.4 acres of “green space” in order to stay in line with the city’s goal of two acres of recreational space per 1,000 residents.

Vice Mayor Teresa O’Neil expressed skepticism as to how that “green space” would be allocated. Most importantly, she said, the development agreement must have clear language.

Eimer countered, assuring the committees that Related is committed to making the development a pedestrian-friendly area but maintained that the projected needs to continue to have “a great deal of flexibility.”

Discussion surrounding the project’s infrastructure needs was pushed to a later meeting.

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