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Divisive Housing Projects Fizzle, Council Looks to Increase ‘Affordable’ Housing

Two housing developments have stalled after public outrage made the developments infeasible.

The developer of the apartment complex slated to replace the AMF Moonlite Lanes bowling alley withdrew its application to develop a 158-apartment complex on El Camino Real.

San Mateo-based developer Prometheus purchased the property located at 2780 El Camino Real after the bowling alley closed in November last year.

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Jon Moss, executive vice president of Prometheus, said he was taken aback at how the public suddenly turned out to oppose the project in “the eleventh hour.” He said Prometheus initially had little feedback from neighbors of the property and that his company tried to redraft the project to accommodate the concerns.

“We went back to the well and we changed our drawings in what we thought was a significant manner,” he said Tuesday night at the Council meeting. “We felt comfortable the plan was going pretty well.”

Prometheus asked the City Council to amend the General Plan to alter the parcels designation from commercial to residential.

However, after a tideswell of public concern that began about six weeks ago, Moss said attempting to be responsive to all the problems the public had with the development made the project no longer “financially feasible,” adding that he was “still not sure what went awry here.”

Several Council members, including Teresa O’Neill, said those involved with developing the parcels located along El Camino Real need to take a “holistic” approach. O’Neill commended Moss for acknowledging the public’s concerns, adding that once the Council updates the General Plan it will be easier to “facilitate communication” between all the stakeholders.

Public meeting mainstay Deborah Bress told the Council she “appreciated very much that [the Council] has listened to the community,” adding that the public is not going to tolerate any “divide and conquer” tactics.

“Involve the community first or this is what is going to happen. It is not an ultimatum,” she said. “We are united. We are going to work with one another.”

Another Santa Clara resident, Wendy Levine, said that until Tuesday’s Council meeting she had never felt the Council heard the public’s voice.

“Allowing residents that don’t live here to determine the culture and tenor of our City is disgusting,” she said.

Fellow public meeting mainstay Hosam Haggag addressed the Council calling for a moratorium on planned developments until the Council has updated the General Plan.

Another divisive project also came to a halt. Toward the end of the meeting, City Manager Rajeev Batra told the Council that John Sobrato also withdrew its application to build a homeless shipping container housing development. The complex at the corner of San Tomas Expressway and Monroe St. was slated to play host to 200 microunits for the homeless, but the public staunchly opposed the project earlier this month.

Batra did not elaborate why Sobrato withdrew its application.

Also on the agenda was an affordable housing Nexus study that would impose impact fees on office, light industrial and residential developments to help fund “affordable” housing projects. For residential projects, developers would be able to earmark 10 percent of the units as “affordable” in lieu of the paying the fee.

Andrew Crabtree, director of community development, said the study looked at what other cities in the area charge for impact fees and settled on rates for Santa Clara that fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum: $25 to $35 per square foot for residential developments, between $5 and $10 per square foot for office developments and between $2 and $5 per square foot for light industrial developments.

Hotels and retail developments would be exempt from the fees.

However, Crabtree said these impact fees could have other consequences such as property owners increasing rents, cutting costs on construction or decreasing property values.

O’Neill said she would like to see more definitive evidence as to the effect such fees have on housing costs and whether the fees have actually resulted in an increase in “affordable” housing in neighboring cities.

Councilmember Patricia Mahan said she would like to see “prevailing or living wages” for projects, adding that there are still “a lot of unanswered questions.”

Vince Rocha, director of government affairs for the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors, said he would like to see more “thoughtful decision making” from the Council and encouraged it to increase market rate housing in the area, adding that funding “affordable” housing for all those who need it in the area would exceed the entire state budget.

“You cannot subsidize your way out of this,” he said.

The Council will meet again 7 p.m. March 7 in the City Council Chambers located at 1500 Warburton Ave.

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