The City of Santa Clara is closing in on a modernized zoning code. On Sept. 20, the Planning Commission heard part one of a two-part presentation on the City’s zoning code update.
Santa Clara’s original zoning code was adopted in 1969. While the City has made individual updates on an as needed basis, this is the first comprehensive update of the zoning code.
Within the City, the zoning code regulates land use and development standards. It is what homeowners and developers look at when they’re considering redevelopment. It also guides the creation of zoning districts within the City.
This update is designed to modernize the text of the code. It will also fix outdated problems.
The City held eight community meetings in preparation for the zoning code update. It received feedback from developers, homeowners and residents, among others.
The City says this new zoning code is “formatted for ease of use” by presenting districts of the same type in the same chapter and in the same tables. It also creates mixed-use districts and mixed-use corridors, something that did not exist when the code was first created in the 1960s.
Other code updates include creating an administrative special permitting process for temporary outdoor uses like carnivals and pumpkin patches. There are also minor use permits for non-controversial projects.
Restaurants will be allowed more outdoor seating without a permit and can have live entertainment during serving hours, things that previously required a special use permit.
Commissioner Yashraj Bhatnagar asked City staff to come back at the next meeting with details on what the zoning code says in regards to requiring green spaces and using green energy.
Chair Priya Cherukuru wanted City staff to ensure the zoning code was prepared for climate eventualities, specifically when looking at the flood plains around Stevens Creek and San Tomas Aquino Creek.
One member of the public asked the City to reconsider the outright ban on electrified fencing. He said that technology is constantly changing and his company safely uses electrified fencing as a form of crime prevention.
Commissioners asked City staff to consider changing the code’s electrified fencing wording to “discretionary” use.
Data Centers a Point of Contention
While most of the updates were welcomed by the Planning Commission, many members were upset by the changes linked to data centers. Under the new code, buildings housing data centers will be allowed to reach 90 feet in height, nearly two stories higher than all other buildings in Santa Clara.
City staff says because data centers have fewer employees, adding two more stories will not cause a major traffic impact.
Commissioners saw things differently. Virtually all of them were worried about data centers’ drain on City resources, specifically power. They felt that taller data centers would simply exacerbate the problem.
Commissioner Mario Bouza was one of the more vocal critics, saying that there needs to be criteria surrounding where data centers can be such as at least half a mile away from any residential areas.
Cherukuru wanted the City to create a system that would allow City officials to say “so much and not more.” She was worried the new code would allow for the creation of data centers within certain areas of the City without approval.
More than one commissioner was worried about shadowing if data centers are allowed to be so much taller than the buildings around them. A data center park was suggested to contain the buildings in one part of the City.
Housing Around Santa Clara University
The zoning code was unable to address housing concerns near Santa Clara University. Many neighbors say too many students pack into the single-family homes in the area. Legally, there is not much the City can do without breaking discrimination laws.
However, City staff says it has heard the complaints from the Neighborhood University Relations Committee (NURC) and it is examining a future ordinance to address the topic.
Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and Home Add-Ons
Changes to the zoning code will make it easier for homeowners looking to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) or add-ons to their homes. Currently, many of these projects require the approval of the Planning Commission before they can move forward, specifically in the Old Quad area.
However, the changes in the code will allow some of the additions to happen without a hearing, provided they meet the requirements of the new zoning code.
The zoning code will also deal with the increasing number of short-term rentals in Santa Clara. City staff says it is considering a registration requirement for all short-term rentals. Owners would also have to pay a transient occupancy tax, just like hotels are required to do.
Once the plan goes into effect, the City will hire an outside contractor to manage the short-term rentals and monitor compliance.
Other Planning Commission Business
Commissioners Nancy Biagini and Bhatnagar dialed into the meeting. Both could not attend in person because of “medical reasons.”
The next meeting of the Planning Commission will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 11 at 6 p.m. That’s when the commission will make a recommendation to the City Council about the zoning code update.