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Re: 906-950 Monroe St. Development – Letter to the Editor

The developer, Lamb Partners (Randy Lamb – Atherton Planning Commissioner) started to purchase the two single family homes along Monroe, 906 Monroe St. and 930 Monroe St. in Feb 2019 and Sep 2019 respectively.  This was just after the Santa Clara Downtown Community Task Force (DCTF) was formed by the City Council in December 2018.  Lamb Partners purchased the adjacent property, 950 Monroe St., adjacent to these homes in August of 2021.

During the time the developer was assembling property within the Downtown Precise Plan area, the DCTF held regularly scheduled meetings (usually monthly) to begin the community visioning process and was developing a plan with objective design standards.  This process has taken longer than originally anticipated due to Santa Clara’s zoning laws being out of date, Updated State laws, the need to complete/include objective design standards, and the COVID-19 pandemic to name a few.  The plan is currently getting the final revisions updated by the urban planner and will be submitted for the City Council’s approval in the fall which will include a Form Based Code, a financial feasibility study, and an approved EIR/CEQA for the plan area (Blue Rectangle on “Downtown Focus Area Affected Area” attachment),

The developer/applicant chose not to work with the DCTF on aligning their project proposal with the developing precise plan, resulting in the currently proposed plan exceeding what the community envisioned was appropriate for the neighborhood edge.  Myself and others reached out to the applicant (Sal Caruso) and Randy Lamb (developer) to try and continue to collaborate through the process in order to avoid this very situation to no avail.

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The city council will review and make a decision on the 950 Monroe Project on August 22nd (pending it remains on the posted agenda).  The applicant has argued that the proposed project meets the Downtown Precise Plan using “cherry picked” sections and information from the plan to support their claim.  Regardless, the Downtown Precise Plan has not been adopted and therefore should not be part of the City Council’s decision when considering the plan.  Holding the currently proposed project approval accountable to a future plan/law would be illegal and provide grounds for the developer to file a suit against the city (which no one wants).

Council should only compare the plan to the existing zoning detailed in the General Plan below.

The 950 Monroe Project far exceeds the current General Plan zoning designation which is “Community Mixed Use”, zoned for 20-36 dwelling units an acre with a max height of 50′.  The proposed project is 65.5 dwelling units an acre and its max height is 84′ 8″.

The project will require a “General Plan Amendment” to update the density designation from “Medium-Density” (20 – 36 du/ac) to “Very High-Density” (70 du-ac), resulting in a potential building height of 8-stories (Up to 100′).  This would not only apply to their parcels, but would rezone all “Community Mixed Use” parcels in the “Downtown Focus Area” in the General Plan (On Page 110 attachment).There has been NO community outreach to inform and educate current residents about the change to the General Plan.  By approving a General Plan Amendment that would “double” the current zoning outside the precise plan will have a lasting impact on the area and future Downtown development.

After the denial of recommendations from the HLC, the developer threatened the city with a lawsuit for a violation of due process, which was immediately dismissed by the City’s attorney at the following Planning Commission meeting. The quick and litigious actions of the developer have many believing that they may be preparing to sue the city if the plan is not approved “as-is” and they have the legal right to do so under the state laws. Unfortunately, it is unclear what “state laws” they may be referring to. Currently the City’s General Plan “Housing Elements” are out of compliance with the state department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).  This is something the city is working to revise and resubmit and there are roughly 252 other jurisdictions in the state that are currently out of compliance.

Myself and others have read through many of the state housing laws and recently passed bills (included the laws in the link but not all bills) to verify the city’s legal requirements when considering the proposal along with understanding the developers legal options if the project is denied.  There are two options for the developer if the city council denies the General Plan amendment based on the current laws reviewed.

Option #1:

The developer can submit a new application using the “State Density Bonus Law” (GOV Code §65915)  This will require the new application to provide additional affordable housing units and/or a lower affordability level than what the city’s inclusionary policy currently requires, which is 15% BRM units averaging 100%AMI.  This process is clearly defined in the GOV code section and would not be something the city could reject if it met the requirements listed in the section.  This option would help increase the affordable housing units in the city and most likely lower affordable units, ultimately assisting with reaching our state Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) goals.  This option would be available to the developer regardless of the approval status of the Housing Elements.

Option #2:

Due to Santa Clara’s General Plan not being approved by the HCD, the developer has an alternative option to file another application using an older “Builders Remedy ” law if the current project is denied.  This law is older and has only recently been tested by developers within the state.  I have not been able to find many cases where the application was denied and/or approved, most look like they “settle” with the jurisdiction (Santa Monica just had 13 of 16 settled).  The law still requires a minimum of 20% “lower income” units to apply which is a significant benefit to the city as an offset for the additional density being requested.

In summary the city council is not required to approve a General Plan amendment and there is no law currently directing them to do so.  The state law provides two alternative application processes to apply for addition density by including more or lower BMR units in the submitted project.  It makes you wonder why council would even consider the plan in front of them, knowing that with either option would result in more BRM stock in the city.

Furthermore the Wells Fargo property on the corner is for sale and contingent, I would not be surprised if the developer/applicant or agent has the property contingent on this General Plan being approved.  It will have an immediate effect on the value and rights of what will be able to be built at that site.

There is a lot more history and information available but the main issue is the General Plan amendment that the developer/applicant is asking for that will have a much further reach than one poorly designed building.  I am available to meet to review as needed, thank you again for your time and consideration of the matter.

Google Drive Link With Supporting Documents: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1cqwEB7QEsTNoLRVidvBa7ocnYvJafRnv?usp=sharing

Adam Thompson

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2 Comments
  1. Buchser Alum 9 months ago
    Reply

    Adam,
    .
    What does this proposal fail to meet in the Downtown Precise Plan? It would seem that the height of it is greater than what is laid out as preferable in the Precise Plan. Is that true?
    .
    What else about it does not match up to the Precise Plan?

  2. Bay Area resident 9 months ago
    Reply

    Build the housing.

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