At the May 14 Santa Clara City Council meeting, when members of a group calling itself Save The Orchard asked the Council not to permit a 30+ unit, three-story townhouse development project on a 1.73-acre lot at 166 Saratoga Ave (at the corner of San Tomas) the proposed project appeared to be a surprise to Council Members. The lot is apparently one the last extant examples of Santa Clara’s orchard history.
So, on May 20 it was on the Council’s agenda as an information item. After hearing from the public, the Council asked the City Manager for a report on June 10 without further discussion. The developer, Walnut Creek-based Home Company, was asked to hold a second neighborhood meeting in early June and bring the company’s revised plan back on June 10.
The parcel is the last remaining piece of the original 13,310-acre Quito Ranch land grant in 1841 to José Zenon Fernandez and Jose Noriega. The property was annexed to Santa Clara in the 1960s. In 1920, the Boyto family bought 10 acres, selling most of it in the 1960s. That left only the 1.73-acre parcel.
Two houses sit on the land – one circa 1915 and the other built around 1950. These would be demolished for the new development. The rest of the property is a small orchard, which has not been a working orchard for several years.
Its most recent owner, Jack Boyto, who died in 2006, was an active preservationist in his lifetime. Boyto played an instrumental role in restoring the Headen-Inman house and the Harris-Lass historic preserve, according to City Historian Lori Garcia.
The proposed project would require a zoning change (from single family to planned development) as well as a change in the land use designation in the 2010 General Plan (from mixed use to medium density residential), but the plan allows the density.
The Historical & Landmarks Commission (HLC) reviewed the proposal in April, and requested information on the property’s historical importance. The analysis, done by San Jose-based Archives & Architecture, concluded that the property lacked historic significance and the houses weren’t eligible for historic listing under current city policies.
“The property was not found to exhibit individual character and interest in a way that reflects the heritage and cultural development of the City,” A&A wrote. “It is not associated with a historical event, important individual or group or other activity, nor does it have a direct association with broad patterns of local area history. The site was also considered for original native trees, topographical features, or outbuildings, but none were found of significance.”
The HLC was split on the question, and asked the developer include an open space heritage element in the plan. The Planning Commission hasn’t reviewed the proposal, and the Planning Department has asked for changes (pertaining to an easement that was given to Vista Del Lago condominium complex which borders the property).