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Former Convent to be Converted to Dorm Housing

The Santa Clara Planning Commission dealt with a number of items at its June 12 meeting, including turning a former convent into dormitory-style housing.

The project is a joint venture between Santa Clara University’s (SCU) ExCEL program for graduate students and St. Lawrence the Martyr Parish.

The site at 2001 Lawrence Court has been vacant for seven years, so the petitioners want to turn it into dorm-style housing for graduate students who will teach full-time at “under-resourced” Catholic schools in San Jose during the school year and take courses at SCU in the summer.

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As part of the deal, the housing will be exclusively for students in the ExCEL program and the applicants would have to return to the Planning Commission if they want anyone else to live at the site.

It’s expected to house up to 25 students, including one resident advisor (RA). Petitioners say the RA will be there at all times and there will be quiet hours. The site will include 25 parking spaces and key fob entry.

During discussion, Commissioner Mario Bouza asked that the noticing radius be extended to 1,000 feet instead of the current 300 feet requirement if any requests for changes to the conditional use permit (CUP) are made.

Commission Chair Priya Cherukuru asked that residents receive parking permits and that they stick to parking in the parking lot instead of the neighborhood.

City staff expects the change to have a minimal impact on local traffic since residents will be working “school” hours, which are different than the normal 9 to 5.

The Commission unanimously approved the CUP with the following conditions of approval:

  • The applicant will provide visitor parking spaces to a quantity “satisfactory” to the Director of Community Development.
  • Ensure security on premises to monitor for nighttime activities.
  • If the applicant seeks a change in the CUP, it must first notify people within 1,000 feet or at least 25 properties.
  • A “responsible party” must be available for any reporting of incidents or concerns about the property’s use.

Data Center Cleared to Install Four More Generators

The owners of McLaren Data Center at 737 Mathew Street returned to the Planning Commission for permission to install four more generators on top of its building CA23.

The building already has 17 generators. There are also 33 generators on other buildings on the site.

The work will also include installing diesel particulate filter and abatement devices on all of the backup generators on top of CA23 as well as “minor changes” to the stack locations at CA22.

The data center was approved in February 2019. The applicant says the addition would have no new impact or significant increase in severity from the previous CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) report.

Neighbors within 300 feet of the data center were notified of the change.

Bouza asked how many more additional gallons of fuel would be required on-site as a result. The petitioner says it keeps 5,000 gallons on site per generator.

Commissioner Yashraj Bhatnagar asked why, six years after approval, more generators are needed. The applicant said it was trying to correct an oversight.

Commissioner Eric Crutchlow asked if each generator runs at 2.7 MW and the applicant has 54 generators, then, wouldn’t they be exceeding the 100 MW California Energy Commission (CEC) threshold?

City staff indicated that CEC rulings do not impact the Planning Commission’s approval of the data center CUP.

Applicant said the CEC had already signed off on the addition.

The commission adopted the addendum to the 2018 initial study and Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) unanimously.

It approved the CUP with the amendment to include “…the changes to the facility described in the June 12, 2024 staff report, specifically the addition of diesel particulate filter and selective catalytic abatement devices on all of the emergency backup generators at building CA23 and minor changes to the final stack locations of emergency generators at building CA22.”

The vote on the CUP was 6-1, with Bouza voting no.

Following the vote, Chair Cherukuru took a moment to address data centers and their presence in Santa Clara.

“There is a notion that data centers, will generate revenue and will limit traffic impacts to the city. To me, that’s a big red flag,” said Cherukuru. “When we say traffic in the City, I consider it the source of what makes a city thrive, meaning people are out there. There’s jobs, there’s work. People are going in and out. When we choke our finite resource of land with data centers, we are just continuing to propagate less jobs in our City.”

Conditional Use Permit for a Phone Tower Approved

The Planning Commissioners unanimously approved a plan for an 80-foot fake pine and telecommunications facility at 3536 Monroe Street, with some conditions.

Commissioners told the petitioner, Verizon Wireless, that it must provide “a collapse risk assessment study from a contractor in a form satisfactory to the Director of Community Development to demonstrate that the risk to properties in the collapse radius be minimized.” The condition also gave the director discretion to “require modification” to “reduce risks” identified in the study in the event of a tower failure.

When asked if other sites were considered, the applicant said there was a different carrier on an adjacent rooftop, but the rooftop would not support the weight of another tower and the signals would interfere with one another.

The fake pine will be located among current 70- and 80-foot pine trees.

“Use by Right” Definition

The state approved the City’s Housing Element on May 31, but with the condition that the City incorporate the definition of the term “use by right” in the City’s Zoning Code. The move would bring the City into compliance with AB 1397.

According to City staff, AB 1397 has been the law since Jan. 1, 2018 and the City has been following it. However, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) wanted the City to “enshrine” the wording in the zoning ordinance.

The resolution to recommend that the City Council approve the amendment passed by a 7-0 vote.

Consent Calendar & Other Business

The commission approved the following items:

  • Review of the proposed FY 2024/25 and FY 2025/26 Biennial Capital Improvement Program Budget for Conformity with the City of Santa Clara 2010 – 2035 General Plan.
  • Meeting minutes from May 22, 2024.
  • Meeting minutes from May 24, 2023 (passed 4-0 with three members abstaining).

The Planning Commission also elected new leadership for the upcoming term. Lance Saleme will serve as Planning Commission Chair, Bouza will serve as vice chair and Crutchlow will serve as secretary for the upcoming Planning Commission term.

The next Planning Commission meeting is Aug. 21 at 6 p.m. in City Council Chambers.

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