The Santa Clara City Council told homeowners and City planners to take another look at the redesign plans for a home in Santa Clara’s Old Quad neighborhood. Plus, plans to bring renewable wind energy to the area hit a snag, leading to a huge cost increase. And, the Council appoints its vice mayor and chaplain for the year.
A second-floor addition to a single-family home caused a stir among residents, prompting the Santa Clara City Council to send the project back to the drawing board — again.
At its first meeting of the year, the Council bounced a home addition back to City employees in an attempt to redesign it to jibe with the neighborhood’s character.
The home, located at 1485 Bellomy St., sits next to a home on the Historic Landmarks Registry. The project originally came to the Council in October, where the applicants asked for a rezoning so they could add a second floor.
However, public pushback about the building’s height, its setbacks from adjacent properties and parking caused the Council to ask for a redesign. Since then, the project has undergone changes, but neighbors still turned out to bemoan it for the same reasons.
The 3,833 sq. ft. lot — once part of a bigger lot that was split — is atypical for the Old Quad, said Reena Brilliot, acting community development director. The neighborhood lot size is typically around 6,000 square feet.
Although the project has come into compliance with zoning requirements since coming to the Council in October, many still said the building is too big and doesn’t fit the neighborhood. Applicants Giovanni and Priscilla Bui redesigned the home, reducing the building height, increasing the setbacks by a foot on each side and adding a tandem two-car garage.
The project saw narrow support from the Planning Commission, while the Historic Landmarks Commission rejected it.
Julie Salinas, who sold the home to the current owners and lives in the neighboring historic home, said she warned the couple that changes to the property would be fraught with difficulty because of the neighboring property’s historic designation, something she said they ignored.
“People can’t just build whatever they want just because it is their dream home. They have to consider what they are buying and the property and the houses around them,” she said. “This isn’t about whether a family deserves a dream home. This is more about it is not in keeping with the character of the neighborhood, and they were well aware of that from the beginning.”
Although City employees recommended approving the project, Rob Meyer challenged their assessment that it suits the Old Quad, saying that planning is very different from architecture.
“When you’re dealing with historic houses in historic neighborhoods, it is quite a sophisticated situation to come up with good designs that work really well,” he said.
Brilliot said the Council needed to determine whether the proposed development met admittedly subjective criteria, including whether it fits the neighborhood’s character and causes any undue harm.
Still, not everyone opposed the project.
Council Member Karen Hardy said, “The Old Quad is an enigma with contradictions wrapped up in many exceptions,” adding that it is not “homogenous.” Because of the subjectivity of the assessment, Hardy said she didn’t feel right denying the project because she didn’t hear enough that it was “detrimental” to the neighborhood.
A few members of the public also supported the project.
Candida Diaz said the criticism of the project seemed to be “personal,” arguing that the three-to-five-foot setbacks are a guideline, not a requirement, saying the project meets the requirements.
Vice Mayor Kevin Park agreed but felt the applicants didn’t make enough concessions on other areas to allow flexibility on the setback guideline.
“If you hadn’t been so concerned with maxing everything out, the design could have been a little better and could have met the guidelines,” he said.
Council Member Anthony Becker said the Council has shown “poor leadership” and “poor care” in the past, calling the proposed building a “monstrosity.” He accused previous Councils of “rubber stamping” projects just because they “met the standard.”
“It does check all the boxes; 100% it checks all the boxes, but we need to think outside the boxes,” he said. “In order to make our neighborhoods successful, there has got to be harmony, and I don’t hear the harmony in this project.”
In a unanimous vote, the Council approved sending the project back to architectural review with an additional meeting involving all stakeholders. Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Becker said they hoped the project would not need to return to the Council.
Council Member Suds Jain needed to recuse himself from the discussion because his home is within 1,000 feet of the property, thus giving him a conflict of interest.
Wind Energy Costs Rise for Santa Clara
The Council also approved a 37% increase in a wind power agreement. In order to meet aggressive state renewable energy requirements, Silicon Valley Power (SVP) entered into an agreement last year to secure wind energy from a wind farm in Mexico.
However, in September, SVP learned that Energia Sierra Juarez U.S. would no longer be able to build the wind farm at the negotiated price. The increase amounts to an additional $20 to $25 million a year over the 20-year term, bringing the total contract amount to $93 million.
The project’s completion date has been moved from December 2024 to April 2026.
Manuel Pineda, SVP’s chief electric utility officer, told the Council that increased permitting, inflation, supply chain issues and financing all contributed to the spike. Without the contract, Pineda said, meeting state renewable goals would prove challenging because of the difficulty in replacing the 1 million megawatts of wind energy a year set to be provided by the wind farm.
While Jain, an ardent environmentalist, said he is “excited” about the project because it adds “geographic diversity” to the City’s energy portfolio, he added that the energy to be secured seems “a bit expensive.”
Despite the expense, the Council still unanimously approved the amendment.
City Council Consent Calendar Spending
- A $315,000 purchase order with Republic EVS for the purchase of an ambulance.
- A $239,900 agreement with Giant Construction, LLC to retrofit the women’s locker room at Levi’s Stadium.
Becker was appointed to the position of vice mayor because he was next in the rotation. Park was appointed to the position of chaplain.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, Jan. 30 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.
Members of the public can participate in the City Council meetings on Zoom at https://santaclaraca.zoom.us/j/99706759306; Meeting ID: 997-0675-9306 or call 1(669) 900-6833, via the City’s eComment (available during the meeting) or by email to PublicComment@santaclaraca.gov.