The six remaining acres of open land at 90 N. Winchester – known familiarly as BAREC – are still the subject of public discussion more than a decade after the state put the land up for sale.
At its Feb. 3 study session, the City Council discussed an RFP for six acres of vacant land at 90 N. Winchester (BAREC). In 2006, Santa Clara's Redevelopment Agency (RDA) purchased from the state six acres of the former UC agricultural research station at below market price to build 165 affordable senior apartments with a one-acre garden area. Summerhill Homes purchased the remaining nine acres.
At that time there was a plan for the Santa Clara Methodist Retirement Foundation-Catholic Charities (SCMRFCC) to develop the project, with the City contributing $8 million of RDA housing funds for construction financing.
The project came to a screeching halt following the RDA dissolution in 2012, as the state deliberated whether the land and money properly belonged to the County or the City. Eventually it ruled that the land went back to the City's Housing Authority, but the County got the cash. Now Santa Clara is back at square one, $8 million poorer, looking for development and financing proposals.
“This feels like deja vu all over again – it's been 10-12 years,” said Charities Housing Director of Housing Development, Kathy Robinson. “We're ready to own it, build it and manage it.”
While 165 affordable senior apartments must be built, the entire six acres doesn't have to be dedicated to that. However, Mayor Jamie Matthews noted that the original plan is what voters approved. “The most important part of the RFP is the legal requirement to begin by January 2017,” Matthews said. “If we don't do that, we're nowhere.” A five-year extension is possible, City Attorney Ren Nosky noted.
Given the many changes in the last decade, some City officials don't simply want to restart a 10 year-old plan – especially with the City growing rapidly and gaining national visibility, while simultaneously losing $14 million in annual redevelopment lease revenue (almost 10 percent of the general fund).
“We want to strongly encourage developers who want to develop the entire six acres, and work with those partners [SCMRFCC] to built the 165 units,” said City Manager Julio Fuentes. “I have interest from developers that have non-profit components to develop three acres of the site. By dividing the parcel in half, we can sell three acres to get funding for developing the affordable component.”
“I want to see something creative,” said Council Member Lisa Gillmor. “I don't want to see a conventional senior plus market rate housing. This is going to be a signature property for us.”
“This is the last undeveloped, intact six-acre parcel in the City,” noted Council Member Teresa O'Neill. “I want to see us go into this without any preconceptions, with an open, transparent process.”
“We will consider all kinds of options, It's open to be creative and see what you [developers] have to offer,” said Fuentes.
One idea that's been circulating is an “agrihood,” currently dubbed Win6Village (www.win6village.org). A growing suburban trend, agrihoods are neighborhoods built around shared farms instead of, say, golf courses – green spaces that generate revenue, not just cost. There are an estimated 200 agrihoods in the U.S. The New York Times recently profiled Gilbert, Arizona's highly successful Agritopia.
Win6Village proposes up to 500 units of low-income senior, market rate and affordable housing that's pedestrian-friendly and built with “sustainable” designs; accepting higher density in return for the integrate urban farm, extensive public open and green space, as well as gardens and gathering places. A detailed description is available from the website, or directly at win6village.files.wordpress.com.
Another advanced urban planning feature in the design is elevated overpasses that are extensions of the neighborhood and integrate it into the larger community. This is similar to Manhattan's High Line linear park and its new Hudson Yards development, which will create 360 acres of new real estate by building above a railroad yard. Half of this will be an open space network of boulevards and parks integrating the neighborhood into the public transit system, the rest of the Manhattan's West Side, and new Hudson River waterfront parks.
Win6Village is the brainchild of Kirk Vartan, a former Cisco engineering manager, early pioneer in Local Area Networking (LAN) and developer and director of NBC's business media services. He now owns the growing pizzeria chain, A Slice of New York. Middlebrook Gardens developed the conceptual designs.