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Downtown Precise Plan, Zoning Code Amendment Recommended for Approval

Santa Clara's Planning Commission has recommended the Downtown Precise plan for approval, approved the Zoning Code update.

The Santa Clara Planning Commission tackled two major City projects in its two most recent meetings, recommending both for approval. The Downtown Precise plan and the Zoning Code update now head to the City Council for approval.

Downtown Precise Plan Reshapes Vision of Santa Clara’s Downtown

During the Planning Commission’s Oct. 25 meeting, City staff outlined the details of the Downtown Precise plan. The plan was created after dozens of meetings with the Downtown Community Task Force (DCTF).

The goal of the plan is to revitalize Santa Clara’s historic downtown. It will offer guidance on future land use, urban design standards and public right of ways.

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The area is bordered by Benton Street on the north, Lafayette Street on the east, Homestead Road on the south and Madison Street on the west. The proximity to Santa Clara University, the Santa Clara train station and El Camino Real make this an ideal location for downtown Santa Clara.

The precise plan does not include any specific land use requirements but rather shows building forms that can be occupied by housing, offices, hotels, civic uses or a mix of them.

Each street section is expected to have its own character.

Lafayette Street will be the major thoroughfare. It will be wider with faster moving traffic.

Monroe Street, Benton Street and Homestead Road will be treated like “community connectors.” They will be mainly for vehicles. There will be sidewalks, bicycle lanes and street parking.

Franklin Street will be pedestrian-oriented with wider sidewalks and space for parking, bike parking or outdoor dining.

Madison, Jackson, Main and Washington streets will be “service-oriented.” They will include two rows of trees and multi-use areas for drop off and service and delivery.

The plan also creates several large hubs of open space, including parks and plazas. An arts common will be closest to Santa Clara University. It will be like a town square, large enough to accommodate public gatherings and events. It will have indoor and outdoor use capabilities.

The center green will be located at the center of downtown; it will be four corners of open space.

Franklin Plaza will be a smaller plaza at the west end of the downtown district next to the historic post office.

The idea is to have businesses on the ground floor of all the buildings on Franklin Street – downtown’s “central spine” – with housing and office space above. The building heights along Franklin Street will step up as they get closer to the east end where Franklin and Main streets meet.

The City will also change the way it deals with developers, creating a fee-based community benefits program. Developers will pay money for certain perks such as bonus building height and that money will be used to help improve downtown.

“Whatever would be densified, the additional massing, we want a cut on a yearly basis for betterments, public private partnerships,” said DCTF chair Adam Thompson. “To say, ‘Hey, you’re building that parking structure, we’d like to add three stories to it because we have some funds.’ ‘Oh, that historical structure…the post office needs to be rehabilitated?’ The city has funds to do it.”

The precise plan is what’s called a “form-based code” put in place so that the City can better control the vision of downtown. City staff says form-based code creates objective standards, which is the best process under current state law.

Commissioners expressed concern over whether there was interest in coming to the downtown area. One public speaker allayed that fear, saying he had heard from several developers, including one who represented a Michelin star restaurant.

Other commissioners expressed concern about enough parking. City staff said state law does not allow it to require parking because of the downtown area’s proximity to public transit. However, the City does own land within the downtown area and some of that land could be used to create a parking structure.

During his public comment, Thompson said the goal of the DCTF was to create “the best pedestrian experience possible.” Pointing out that they went to a building form model because “not one project is important in this plan; they all are.”

He reminded the City that enforcement of this plan is critical and pointed out that the Monroe Street project, currently on a future City Council agenda, did not comply on “many, many factors.” Thompson worried that the project would ultimately “hurt the overall downtown.”

Community members all spoke in favor of the plan.

“Having pedestrian-focused infrastructure that allows me to be in an environment where I also want to spend money, I think that is a great value and while that would be more seasonal for the students, I think would provide that boost that would get more people outside, kind of like a catalyst,” said Santa Clara University student Sally Walsh.

The environmental impact report (EIR) is already done for the entire Downtown Precise plan which should streamline the process for developers.

Commissioner Lance Saleme suggested a supercharger area since it will bring people downtown to use short-term services like coffee shops while their cars charge.

The plan was recommended for approval with a 6-0 vote. Commissioner Yashraj Bhatnagar was absent and excused.

The plan will be presented to the City Council at its Dec. 5 meeting.

Long Awaited Zoning Code Update Approved with Conditions

After nearly 50 years, Santa Clara is one step closer to a new zoning code. At its Nov. 15 meeting, the Planning Commission approved the City’s recommended Zoning Code update with some conditions.

City staff presented the document with some changes from the original presentation in September. Changes included:

  • The definition of floor area ratio now includes whatever is above ground level, whether habitable or not.
  • Text further clarified the exemption on AB2096, where no parking is required near transit.
  • At the request of the California Dept. of Housing and Community Development (HCD), City staff added emergency shelters to light industrial zones. They are currently allowed in multi-family zones and commercial zones.
  • A clear exemption of the Downtown Precise plan was inserted into the document since the precise plan will be approved prior to the Zoning Code update.
  • Required all new housing elements to have at least 25% shared common space.
  • Included better consistency with the Reach Code.
  • Included language explaining the exception of City Place regarding billboards.
  • Allowed companies that are already doing medical manufacturing in industrial districts to also conduct outpatient servicing.

There was a lengthy debate over electric fencing after one member of the public urged the commissioners to reconsider an outright ban. He told the commission that his business currently complies with state standards on electric fencing and has a buffer. A non-electrified fence surrounds the property with the electrified fence set back from that.

City staff said the code update bans barbed wire fences, razor wire fences, glass on top of fences and electric fences as part of a City strategy surrounding the look and feel of the City.

Some commissioners agreed and worried about safety as well. Commissioner Nancy Biagini said she didn’t see the need and felt like it was creating a solution while looking for a problem.

Commissioner Qian Huang said, “If even one single business needs this technology, we should not prevent this technology in our City.”

Ultimately, all the commissioners worked together to come to a consensus. They agreed to require conditional use permits for any applicant who wants to use electric fencing in industrial districts. Electric fencing would not be allowed in other districts. Commissioner Eric Crutchlow asked that the state’s civil code definition of electric fencing be included in the code.

The Planning Commission voted to adopt all aspects of the Zoning Code update except for Section 2, which will return when City staff has developed a zoning map (possibly March 2024).

The adoption included wording that clarified the definition of data centers to include data warehouses and added additional details on what constitutes “ancillary uses” in high-intensity usage research and development centers with respect to data centers. It also changed stand-alone data centers from a permitted use to a conditional permitted use in the zones listed in table 2.12. Ancillary data centers below a specified square footage and kilowatt threshold would be permitted.

Wording regarding ADU rentals mirrored the City of San Mateo, which prohibits using ADUs for short-term rentals.

Planning Commission Consent Calendar and Other Business

At the Oct. 25 meeting, the Planning Commission approved the following items on the consent calendar:

  • Time extension of a use permit and architectural review for six-story 396-room hotel at 312 Brokaw Road and 1240 and 1290 Coleman Avenue.

There were no consent calendar items on the agenda for the special Nov. 15 meeting.

None of the commissioners will be available to attend the CEQA conference in San Francisco this December.

The next meeting of the Planning Commission is Wednesday, Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. in City Council Chambers.

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1 Comment
  1. The Dude 7 months ago
    Reply

    Nothing on the map shows the Superior Court (which the State said they have no interest in giving up the property). They need to be realistic in the plan that the courthouse will remain. Those on the ROD FB page have great “Sim City” plans for a downtown which need to be dialed back a bit.

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