A portion of the Bay Area’s housing crisis played out in front of the Planning Commission on Aug. 23. What seemed like a routine request to add on to a Santa Clara home in the Old Quad neighborhood turned into a larger conversation about the high cost of housing and how local educators could possibly afford to live and raise a family in the area.
At issue was the home at 1485 Bellomy St. The applicant is a local teacher and Santa Clara native who asked the Commission to allow his family to add on to his existing 1-bedroom, 1-bathroom home and turn it into a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom property. The addition would require a second story.
Opponents said the applicant knew the remodeling restrictions when he purchased the home in the Old Quad neighborhood.
“When someone buys a home in the Old Quad, they really need to do their research and understand context,” said Rob Mayer, who implored the Commission to request a redesign that was more in line with the neighborhood.
“Please respect the Old Quad otherwise we’re going to lose it forever,” said George.
Meanwhile, supporters said with how expensive housing is currently, it would be unfair to deny a local educator his dream of owning a home that he could raise a family in.
“700 square feet isn’t good enough to raise a child,” said one supporter.
Commissioners were also split on the issue. Commissioner Lance Saleme said he didn’t like the “McMansion” aspect of it all. Commissioner Yashraj Bhatnagar said when you purchase a property, you own it and have the right to do what you want as long as you meet City standards.
The Santa Clara Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC) met with the applicant twice and asked for revisions each time including lowering the height of the home. Currently, the plans are for a 24-foot height home, below the City’s 25-foot design standard.
The applicant, Giovanni Bui, said he and his wife did what they could to work with the HLC, but it’s still their home.
“It’s also our right to say no, that that’s not something that we want to do for our home…I don’t want to make it look like, ‘Hey, you guys brought it up and we just didn’t think about it.’ We thought long and hard about it,” said Bui. “We thought about all of the different things that we can change to kind of make compromises. There are compromises and then there are also people from the outside telling us what to do. That’s what it feels like, a little bit.”
Ultimately, the commission voted 4-3 to recommend that the City Council approve the request for a rezone with Commissioners Priya Cherukuru, Nancy Biagini and Saleme voting no.
Daycare Debate Returns to Planning Commission
The Commission finally took action on a use permit for an outdoor play area at a new child daycare facility at 2280 El Camino Real – the former site of La Paloma restaurant.
The issue initially came up in June, when commissioners pushed it back to the applicant for more details on the safety at the intersection and potential crime due to homeless living in the area.
The applicant returned with details, reporting no accidents in the area and low crime rates. However, that did not sway some commissioners who believe it is a poor location for a daycare facility.
“The problem that we’re having is…you cannot prevent an accident in the future. And so, this is our kids we’re talking about. Our names are on that signature that said, ‘Fine, put the kids there.’ So, that’s the burden of proof,” said Bhatnagar.
“It’s about the location and how the building is situated on that location,” said Biagini.
Commissioner Qian Huang said traffic is traffic and it would be unfair to judge a daycare differently.
“Any business at that location you have the same issue,” said Huang.
Several community members came out in defense of the daycare. One said putting something in the location prevents blight. Another community member pointed out that an area becomes safer when you have safe businesses operating there.
Perhaps the most moving argument came from Covenant House, which operates next to the site. Several employees at Covenant House say a daycare would be a great neighbor. One said delaying a decision creates more unsafe opportunities in the area because it leaves a building abandoned.
The arguments swayed Saleme, who said supporters did a great job “obliterating” his assumptions and “hubris.”
The daycare received approval with the condition that the City return to the Planning Commission in 24 months with data on crime, accidents and violations within 300 feet of the location. At which time, the Commission would have the ability to modify or revoke its approval.
The vote passed 5-1-1 with Biagini voting no and Bouza abstaining. Bouza said he was uncomfortable requiring costly infrastructure upgrades and then having conditions that could ostensibly rescind that approval later.
Appeal on 74 Woodhams Road Expansion Denied
The commission heard an appeal of an approved home expansion at 74 Woodhams Road. The homeowners received preliminary approval to add a second story to their home. It would turn the 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom home into a 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom.
A neighbor appealed the decision to approve the plan saying that the shadow on his home would be too great. He asked for a setback on the second floor or a tapered roof.
When the owner of 74 Woodhams Road pointed out that the appellant did not live in the home, the appellant said he should not be “vilified” for not living there, calling it “reverse discrimination.”
Despite that, commissioners voted to move forward with allowing the expansion as planned. The vote was 6-1 with Bhatnagar voting no.
1365 Main Street and 1070 Lewis Street Subdivided
Commissioners approved a plan to divide an L-shaped lot in downtown Santa Clara into two separate properties – 1365 Main St. and 1070 Lewis St.
The move will place the Main Street property under the Mills Act – which means it will be officially considered a historic building.
The developer plans to update the Main Street property so that it is once again habitable and add an ADU behind the Lewis Street property.
The plan was met with little resistance from the public and was approved unanimously by the Planning Commission.
Planning Commission Consent Calendar
The Planning Commission approved the following Consent Calendar items:
- Meeting minutes from Jan. 26, 2023.
- Meeting minutes from March 8, 2023.
- 2024 Planning Commission calendar of meetings.
- Permit to allow the sale and consumption of beer and wine for restaurant located at 3443 El Camino Real.
Biagini pulled item 1D from the consent calendar. After a short discussion, the commission agreed to approve an entitlement extension on a previously approved project at 2931 El Camino Real with the condition that the City encourage developers and contractors to evaluate hiring local labor, hiring from or contributing to accredited apprenticeship programs and providing living wages.
The item was approved with Bouza voting no and Crutchlow recusing himself since he has an interest within 1,000 feet of the property.
The next Santa Clara Planning Commission meeting is Wednesday, Sept. 20 at 6 p.m.