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Santa Clara City Desk: Dec. 11, 2013

Design Principles for Montana-Lowe and Related Development Projects Approved

Following an hour-plus study session on the conceptual designs for the Centennial Gateway (Montana-Lowe) and City Place Santa Clara (Related Companies) projects at its Dec. 3 meeting, the Santa Clara City Council unanimously approved a set of design principles for the development proposals for the developments, as well as extending the current ENA (exclusive negotiating agreement) with Montana Group for another month, to Jan. 27. The next step will be negotiating a proposed term sheet for each of the developments, which will sit on city-owned land.

Continuing concerns include access – Centennial Gateway fronts on Tasman, and thus controls access points to City Place, which would sit on the 215 acres behind it – and density.

Council Member Pat Kolstad voicing a strong objection to the Montana-Lowe’s proposed floor area ratio (FAR*) of 2.4 – although the 2010 Santa Clara General Plan allows FARs of 2.0 in that area. Kolstad said that he would like to see the proposal come back with a FAR of 1.

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Sightlines from Tasman into the City Place development also continue to be a concern, and Montana-Lowe has already made significant changes to its design to address both this and the access concern.

“I think this view corridor is kind of a red herring,” Montana Group Attorney Robert Mezzetti told the Council. “If you look at the two most popular shopping areas [here], Santana Row and Valley Fair, you drive down the main corridor to both of those, which is Stevens Creek Blvd, you can’t see Nordstrom’s, you can’t see Macy’s, you can’t see any of the restaurants or the theaters in Santana Row.

“[Yet] people know that they’re there,” he continued. “They’re destination locations and the same thing is going to be true of both of these projects, especially the Related project. People aren’t going to not go there because they can’t see them from the street. The view corridor isn’t essential to any department store.”

Next week, the WEEKLY will be featuring an in-depth review of the two projects.

New Residential Development on El Camino and Bowers Gets Go-Ahead

The City Council unanimously approved zoning changes that will allow developer Summerhill to proceed with plans for a 186-unit apartment building on 2611-2655 El Camino Real (currently Russell’s Furniture and the abandoned El Real Nursery). The 3.6-acre parcel will consolidate six separate parcels having altogether 14 different owners. The General Plan zoning for the area is mixed commercial and residential use, and the change makes it high-density residential.

There are several reasons that the zoning change makes sense. First, the parcel isn’t optimal for retail because of its shallowness and proximity to a residential neighborhood – potentially bringing more traffic to those streets.

“Looking at the overall area, the proposal meets city’s goals for mixed use,” said Summerhill VP of Development Elaine Breeze. “The site is mid-block, and new commercial would be better located at intersections.” Plus, the proposed apartments are directly across the street from a shopping center.

“The proposal is consistent with key goals of El Camino focus area,” said Breeze. “The design will help transform into a tree-lined pedestrian- and transit-oriented community. It will complement and support the abundance of commercial and retail already near the site. Looking at the overall area, meets city’s goals for mixed use.”

While it may seem paradoxical, residential development essential to attracting new retail business to Santa Clara – something that comes up repeatedly in City Council goals. “Residential investment is needed to get the retail development that the city is looking for – for example, grocery stores,” observed Council Member Lisa Gillmor.

Council Member Teresa O’Neill provided some perspective that she gained from serving on both the Santa Clara Planning Commission and the 2010 General Plan committee. Mixed-use development “is proving harder to implement than we thought.” For example, “on one of our affordable projects…we found out there were encumbrances on the funding…they could not incorporate a retail purpose.

“We’re going to have to work longer and harder to create mixed use,” O’Neill continued. In this project, “we’ve asked a lot of Summerhill and they have worked really hard to accommodate what the city wanted, what the neighbors wanted…This [proposal] is what we wanted. Is it perfect? No. But if you had the mixed-use element that would make the traffic flows more complicated. Our hopes for revitalizing retail on El Camino will come. These projects are part of this solution.”

Summerhill’s development will include a new pedestrian crossing on El Camino, bus stop, and a public plaza to create a focal point at the Bower Avenue/El Camino intersection, including look-out seat walls, decorative paving, an art element, landscaping, and interpretive signs. If the city can get the appropriate connections from the site, the project will include a public creek-side promenade along Saratoga Creek and a public walkway to Wade Avenue.

The development will feature shared stoops to the sidewalk – a favorite feature of the New Urban architecture that informs most of the new development being proposed in Santa Clara. The architecture will have a varied, but complementary, façade, and will use colors and materials typical of Mission style architecture.

The issue, however, that seemed to be of most concern to neighbors with homes behind the proposed development is continued access to Bowers alley, which runs behind the El Camino property, and which they’ve used since the mid-1950s.

In 1954, the Bowers family recorded their intention to deed the property to the city a right-of-way for utilities. However, the city never formally accepted the deed, reported City Attorney Ren Nosky. So the property is actually part of the privately owned parcels that Summerhill is consolidating.

The alley has become an “attractive nuisance for loiterers with shopping carts, personal belongings, and food garbage present,” said the agenda report. Summerhill’s intention is to landscape the 25-foot alley and use it for an emergency vehicle access road. The developer has agreed to a license arrangement and a design that preserves access for the present owners.

July 4 All-City Picnic Returns to Traditional Date

Last year’s experiment combining the Silicon Valley BBQ Championships with Santa Clara’s All-City July 4 Picnic isn’t destined to be repeated. A year ago, the City Council approved combining the two events with the idea that it would be more cost-effective.

That proved not to be the case. Local non-profit community groups along Food Alley “did not meet their financial expectations and felt less connected to the SVBBQ event,” according to the Council agenda report. Further, the city’s cost recovery fell short of estimates by $24,000. “Restoring the traditional July 4 the All City Picnic as a separate community wide special event allows community non-profit groups to serve a distinct constituency in a familiar program,” said the agenda report.

Second Time a Charm for Historic Preservation Ordinance?

Although the City’s committee for developing a city historical preservation ordinance has been slow getting off the ground, the process is underway, reported Historical and Landmarks Commission Chair Brian Johns, at last Thursday’s meeting. This marks Santa Clara’s second attempt in the last 10 years to create zoning that encourages preservation of historic structures.

“Now might be a good time for us to decide as a commission which issues are important to us, so that our input isn’t made too late,” he said. Johns noted that the city’s zoning regulations date from the era of suburban sprawl, the tract homes of the 1960s and 1970s, and doesn’t really provide a framework for historic preservation.

He gave the example of the city’s 25-foot height limit for single-family homes, something that’s a challenge for two- and three-story Victorians with their high peaked roofs. In the past, owners of such homes have had to ask for zoning variances just to perform needed maintenance. A discussion of ways Santa Clara’s zoning ordinance can better serve the needs of historical preservation will be on the agenda for the Commission’s next meeting.

The Morse Mansion – which is on the National Register of Historic Places – is also back in the public conversation. After neighbors reported tree cutting on the property a few weeks ago, the Planning Dept issued a temporary stop-work order, according to a report at last week’s HLC meeting. Property owner David LeBaron has agreed to meet with city staff about a re-landscaping plan.

*Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is the ratio of lot size to floor space. For example, on a 1,000 sf lot, a 1-storey building covering 1,000 sf, a 2-story building covering 500 sf, and a 4-story building covering 250 sf all have a FAR of 1.

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