Santa Clara’s Planning Commission has recommended that the City Council approve a “massive” downtown development project that would reshape the City’s downtown area.
The project would occupy the entire block of Monroe Street between Franklin Street and Homestead Road and half a block along Homestead Road. It would be a mixed-use development with retail on the first floor and 50 condos above. The project would also include a community space named after Don Von Raesfeld, 3 single-family homes and 4 townhomes—a portion of both the condos and townhomes would be affordable.
Parking for the project would consist of approximately 81 underground spaces, most of which could be used for electric vehicles. There would also be ample bicycle parking. The applicant says it would also maintain the historic homes on the site.
“This is a smart design in the sense that it respects the neighborhood,” said the applicant.
Dozens of community members attended the meeting to speak about the plan, with mixed reviews. Some opponents said the plans do not fit with the downtown precise plan that community members have worked for several years to create. They asked the Planning Commission to put off a decision until the downtown precise plan is approved. However, there’s no set date for the Planning Commission and City Council to hear the downtown precise plan and no guarantee that it will be approved.
Other opponents were concerned about the sheer size of the development, which will be as high as six stories in some places. The word “massive” was often used, with one person calling it a “Frankenstein monsterish project.”
“I’m not against growth and I’m not against development and I’m for adding housing,” said resident Dave Delozier. “I don’t think you have to do it all in one project and I think this is overly built and massive in size.”
However, just as many residents were in favor of the project, including longtime Santa Clara resident Ray Gamma.
“I’ve waited 60 years for this. 60 years I’ve been waiting for you people in the City to get off your duff and let’s build that downtown the way it was,” said Gamma.
Resident Brian Goldenberg said he’s excited about the project and the fact that it will help create a “destination” much like downtown Campbell or Sunnyvale.
Planning Commissioners understood the weight of their decision.
“Yes, the past is important; the future is just much more important for me,” said Commissioner Yashraj Bhatnagar.
“We move slow. We need to move fast,” said Commissioner Qian Huang.
Commissioner Mario Bouza voiced his concern that the City continues to push off decisions on the downtown area year after year.
Commissioner Nancy Biagini struggled with her decision, knowing that both the Historic Landmarks Committee and Downtown Community Task Force were against the plan.
After much discussion and debate, the Planning Commission recommended the entire plan for approval, with an amendment that “encouraged” developers to hire local labor, support apprenticeship programs and pay a living wage.
The Planning Commission added a fifth recommendation that would require a “protective plan” when pieces of the historic structures are exposed during demolition and construction.
The item now moves to the City Council.
Vacant Lot Near Santa Clara University Recommended for Development
Another development a few blocks away from the site of the downtown project was also up for discussion at the Planning Commission meeting. Commissioners looked at plans for 2655 The Alameda, a triangular lot across the street from Santa Clara University and on the same block as the Safeway grocery store.
Plans for development include a four-story building with commercial space on the bottom floor and one- and two-bedroom apartments above. There will also be a small outdoor space, 44 parking spaces and 80 bike parking spaces including ebike lockers.
Per City requirements, 15% of the units will be low to moderate housing.
The site used to be a gas station, so soil and groundwater contamination was a big question. The petitioner said it will employ several measures to prevent contamination including dust suppression, ongoing observation and decontamination of the trucks going onto and off of the site, vapor monitoring and more.
One community member was concerned that that would not be enough. They were concerned that once the toxins became airborne, it would be easy for them to move about the City.
The petitioner pointed out that the City will not be required to police the issue, but rather the state.
Several people were upset about the site’s architecture, saying the architect didn’t do much with an opportunity to be creative. Ultimately, the petitioner agreed to reconsider the architecture in regard to aesthetic.
Commissioner Eric Crutchlow was worried about parties since the apartment would most likely be occupied by University students.
The petitioner said it would employ noise dampening floor materials and as well as noise barrier walls. It was also taking measures to keep people safe including security cameras and special key door locks.
One community member asked that the petitioner consider creating very low-income housing to fulfill its affordable housing requirement since the City plans to deviate from current zoning. City staff says that under state law, that cannot be a condition of approval.
Another asked that the petitioner use union labor, pointing out that the builder slated to construct this project is known for using non-union labor.
Some community members said they were thrilled to see this site finally developed. Myron Von Raesfeld said it was good to get rid of the “blight.” He also pointed out that adding housing in that area would keep students closer to the University.
The Planning Commission recommended that the City Council approve the plan with amendments to “encourage” developers to hire local labor, support apprenticeship programs and pay a living wage. It also included wording to provide ongoing transit passes to residents free of charge.
If approved by the City Council, the development would begin construction in 2024 and finish in late 2025.
Other Planning Commission Business
One community member attended the meeting and asked the Planning Commission to take a hard look at data centers and whether they should be required to use alternative forms of energy. The community member suggested solar power as an option, such as panels on the roof and solar canopies in the parking lots.
“It’s kind of like a give and take,” said the community member. “They’re taking a lot…if they’re doing a million dollar capital improvement on the property, why can’t we do that?”
Commissioner Lance Saleme pointed out that Silicon Valley Power (SVP) is still cheaper than most alternative forms of energy. Saleme said the only way to get solar power is if a company is “generous” enough to provide it.
The Planning Commission also elected its leaders for the next year. Priya Cherukuru will serve another term as Chair. Bhatnagar will serve as Vice Chair. Bouza will take over as Secretary.
The next Planning Commission meeting is Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023 at 6:00 p.m. in City Council Chambers.