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Council Sees Pushback on “Agrihood,” Lawrence Station Projects

After more than 15years of discussion, some are asking the Santa Clara City Council to exercise caution in moving forward with an urban farm development.

The development incorporates 165 units of “affordable” senior housing, market-rate housing and a 1.5-acre farm – an “agrihood” – at 90 N. Winchester Blvd. The Council must act on developing the land before it reverts to state ownership in January. The city purchased six acres of the former University of California agricultural research station, which was closed in 2002, from the state for below-market rate.

The Council considered requests for proposal (RFPs) from three different developers before awarding the Winchester Six Acres (Win6) project to the Core Companies, a San Jose-based construction company that is a specialist in affordable housing projects.

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Public support for the project was strong during the study session Tuesday, with several people calling the development “innovative.” However, some involved in the effort urged the Council not to rush the development to ensure that it is done right. Among those asking the Council to deliberate longer was Kirk Vartan, a local business owner who has lobbied for an “agrihood” for more than a decade.

“I have people coming up to me at meetings, because I go to a lot of meetings, saying ‘I can’t believe we are actually making a difference’,” he said. “We haven’t invested the time yet to really explore the opportunity we have. If we [need to] we can take just a few months to really deliberate about our actions.”

The Council was not without its concerns about the project.

Mayor Lisa Gillmor said the layout of the property isn’t what she envisioned, saying she would like to see the farm aspect of the agrihood be “more prominent and more visible, more inviting.”

Council Member Debi Davis said the agrihood will help improve quality of life for seniors, but agreed that the Council should make sure the plan works for everyone involved before pushing forward.

“This is a huge piece of property that needs some TLC,” she said. “To me, this helps people live longer.”

The “agrihood” will contain 165 senior apartments, 160 mixed-income, 146 of those are market-rate and the remaining 16 are for those with “moderate” income, according to Paul Ring, vice president of Core Companies. All the buildings range from three to five stories. The development will also feature a farm stand, a community center, and a garden, which will be used, among other things, as an educational tool.

“This is about creating affordable housing, but it is also about creating a great place,” Ring said. “It will become not only a place of housing but a place for robust services for seniors.”

Ruth Shikada, assistant city manager, told the Council if the city intends to move forward with plans for development, it will need to pay the state the $4.05 million by year’s end, per the purchase agreement with the state. Construction would need to see be completed by January 2022.

Gillmor directed staff to pursue getting the deadline pushed back so the city does not have to commit to plans for the schematic for the development before it is able to fine tune the details.

Lynn Ching, a Midtown resident, said Core Companies proposal is essentially the same as its initial proposal.

“Our community was never told about the project until a week before,” she said.

The development still has parking issues, she said. If the stakeholders could have a sit-down with city officials to work out the details on how to fix these issues, it would be a “win-win,” she added.

Lawrence Station Area Plan Starts Taking Shape

In a special meeting following the agrihood study session, the Council voted to proceed with another landmark development: the Lawrence Station Area, located on the north side of Kifer east of Lawrence Expressway. The Council unanimously approved moving forward with rezoning the area to accommodate a development by Summerhill, a San Ramon-based firm, that will provide 988 homes, including for-sale townhomes and condos.

Lee Butler, planning manager, said the project includes 657 high-density, 290 medium-density and 41 low-density units. High density houses between 51 and 100 units per acre, medium density 20 to 36 units per acre and low density is eight to 19 units per acre.

Jonathan Fearn, vice president of Summerhill, said the project will be “an amenity to the neighbors, to all of Santa Clara.”

The city will see its coffers filled with $1.86 million in traffic mitigation fees, $5 million in park fees and $4.8 million in school fees from the development. Of the 988 units, Summerhill is proposing 98 “affordable” units. The development will also host nearly 40,000 square feet of retail space.

Chris Horton, president of the Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce, came out in support of the project, as did Amanda Montez on behalf of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

“They have gone way beyond what we expected them to do,” said Council Member Pat Kolstad. “This is one of the best things to come along in years, it is time to get down the road and build it.”

However, some are not as excited about the prospect of what the development brings.

Jodi Muirhead, a Santa Clara Unified school board member, and others from the school district turned out to voice their concerns over how much money Summerhill was contributing to the district to offset the impact on the schools, saying the amount needed to be more than double what it currently is and asked that the company voluntarily increase its development fees to the school district.

The development will bring an influx of students that the district will be unable handle without additional construction.

“We are going to have serious problems down the road if we don’t think about this now,” said Muirhead. “If we don’t get adequate money for our school district to build facilities for these students … it is going to affect all of our students not just the ones coming from these buildings.”

Still, Summerhill disputed whether the money the district is asking for is justified.

Robert Freed, president and CEO of Summerhill, said the school district has not “done the necessary work required by law to support these fees,” adding that his company has delivered on city expectations with a “very compelling product.”

“Is this something we can look back on and be proud of? And the answer is ‘yes,'” he said.

Gillmor said she was “very disappointed” that Summerhill was unwilling to offer additional money to the school district, but voted, along with the rest of the Council, in favor of the development. Councilman Jerry Marsalli left the meeting following the agrihood study session and cast no votes during the special meeting.

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