Won’t somebody please think of the birds?
Although it was never asked quite in that way, that was the crux of most of the public outcry at Tuesday night’s City Council Meeting. Birds colliding with buildings was the last issue yet to be resolved at a massive housing development located between Tasman Drive and Lafayette Street. The complex will contain more than 2,000 apartments and requires a new zoning designation: transit neighborhood.
Compromises to accommodate concerns over various aspects of the development were numerous; however, the environmental impact report (EIR) showed that even “bird-friendly” measures taken during construction could not reduce the impact to “less than significant.”
The plan — dubbed the Tasman East Specific Plan — sets guidelines for development in the area because the plans will not return to the Council. Instead, so long as those plans are inline with the Council’s specifications, the project go to the Architectural Review Committee for approval.
Located right on the Guadalupe River, the project will have more than 10 acres of open space, but its opponents said the impact on the wildlife, specifically birds, in the area is still too high.
“I know we need housing, but it would not be good to locate buildings near the river,” said Ruchi Wadhawan.
Gita Dev, with the environmentalist group Sierra Club, said the developers proposing projects seem to take the setback rules as “vague guidelines” not “as directions.”
However, Andrew Crabtree, Community Development Director, said the EIR shows that increasing the building setbacks to 100 feet, as many requested, would reduce the amount of apartments developers would be able to include by 646.
John Wayland, Managing Director at Holland Partner Group, said such changes would have a “very damaging impact on the ability to develop the site.”
Shani Kleinhaus, an ecologist, said tall buildings pose a threat to migratory birds’ flight patterns.
Michael Josselyn, with the environmental consulting firm that conducted the EIR, said the measures taken to mitigate bird impacts are “a level above what is normally required.”
The goal of the Tasman East Specific Plan is to increase the City’s housing by locating high-density developments with an emphasis on pedestrian traffic near transit hubs. The site is situated between Santa Clara’s City Place site and Ulistac Natural Area.
Still, not everyone was against the project. Many said they supported it.
Pat Nikolai, a leader of the Santa Clara Police Officer Association, called the location a “perfect place for high-density housing.”
“I envision this being a whole vibrant corridor,” he said.
Council Member Teresa O’Neill was the only person on the Council who opposed the plan, saying she was unhappy that Crabtree’s office required only a 20 percent reduction in vehicle miles traveled, believing that the Planning Commission’s 30 percent recommendation was tenable.
Council Member Patricia Mahan said she was “confident” the proper measures would be put in place to protect the birds to the best of the City’s ability.
Meanwhile, Mayor Lisa Gillmor was also firm in her support.
“This is the place where we need to put the housing,” she said. “This is where it makes sense. I am not interested in reducing the number of units near the river because it degrades the project.”
Neighbors Rail Against Higher Density Townhome Project
Another housing development, this one located adjacent to the El Camino Real Specific Plan, also raised the ire of its neighbors. An eight townhome development at 1530-1540 Pomeroy Ave. saw significant pushback from neighbors claiming the project would increase traffic and is the first step in transforming their single-family neighborhood.
In order for construction to proceed, the Council needed to approve a General Plan amendment changing the parcels to a planned development. Planned development designations typically contain some commercial aspect but the proposed project lacked it.
Although the Council instituted a freeze on General Plan amendments last year, the townhome complex was grandfathered in since it was “already in the pipeline” when the Council made that decision.
Lavelle Sousa, a neighbor to the project, said building the complex signifies an “incremental encroachment” that is “crowding the essence” of the neighborhood. She called the proposal a “stunt to hoodwink people.”
Another neighbor, John Leswick, said the planned development designation is “clearly being abused.”
Omid Shakeri, the applicant, said he plans to invest $8 million in the neighborhood, adding 300 feet of storm drain, better sidewalks, fire hydrants and a treeline between the townhomes and the sidewalk.
Still, 260 people petitioned the City to deny the request for development.
Mahan said the project is not a “development by right” and that being near El Camino doesn’t justify the higher density; it is not on El Camino. She called another high-density apartment building in the area a “bad decision” that sets a precedent.
“A bad decision doesn’t justify allowing more of the same,” she said. “We can’t plan in a vacuum.”
Council Member Pat Kolstad said it was a “dandy” project that is a “textbook example of transitional development.” He said building the development will allow for more homeownership, something the City claims it wants.
But the others on the Council felt differently; no one proposed a motion to approve the project. Instead, Mahan proposed — albeit with the qualifier “regrettably” — that the Council reject the proposal, a motion that passed 4-2 — Kolstad and O’Neill were against the motion.
“We have to be sensitive where we put all the develop in the City,” Gillmor said. “We do need density in Santa Clara, but we don’t need density in every neighborhood. The density proposed just doesn’t fit in. We just have to be very diligent in how we plan that part area. This is not the right time.”
College Football Championship Kicks Off
With everything set for the 2019 College Football Championship to be held at Levi’s Stadium, the Council also adopted a series of regulations aimed to help establish a “clean zone.”
The “clean zone” establishes mostly boilerplate rules such as prohibiting the sale of — or distribution of free — merchandise, pitching tents, and vendors such as food trucks.
However, perhaps more disconcerting is the Council’s attempt to infringe on free speech with the establishment of a “Public Participation Zone,” an area where the Council thinks it can mandate attendees are allowed to stand should they wish to exercise their First Amendment rights.
The language is vague and subjective, specifying that the zone is for the “reasonable expression of non-commercial speech” so long as it “not be disruptive to the surrounding businesses, activities and events.”
Ironically, the ordinance also states that such a zone will “allow for meaningful and effective expression by the public.”
The next regularly scheduled Council meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 27 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara. The Council will also hold a Convention Center and Business Engagement Workshop at 5 p.m. on Thursday at the Santa Clara Convention Center, 5001 Great America Parkway in Santa Clara.