Published Wednesday, December 2, 2009, by the San Jose Mercury News
San Jose council approves 150 foot height limit on new downtown project
By Stephen Baxter
Rose Garden Resident
Developers called it a landmark project, and city planners called it a sign of future developments as San Jose tries to build up rather than out in the next 30 years.
On Tuesday night, the San Jose City Council approved a 150-foot height limit for the Ohlone Mixed Use Project, which includes three condominium towers and ground-floor shops near the corner of West San Carlos and Sunol Streets.
The council also amended the city's general plan to allow the developer, Green Republic LLLP, to increase the project's density from 100 housing units per acre to 125 units per acre.
Many nearby residents of the Shasta Hanchett and St. Leo's neighborhoods objected to the potential 14-story project because of its proximity to single story homes, and they asked the council to call for a minimum of 30,000 square feet of shops when it considers the project's zoning permits in about six months.
Others at the meeting supported the plan, including business leaders on West San Carlos Street and leaders from two environmental groups who said the project was a good alternative to sprawling subdivisions.
"We thought this was an opportunity to have a signature building," said San Jose Director of Planning Joe Horwedel. "We're really taking the city into the next 30 years. ... This is an important decision for the future of the city, and we think it's the right thing to do."
Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio, whose District 6 covers the property, supported the decision for many reasons, and he said the buildings would not be out of scale because they are next to a vacant commercial property and the five-story KB Homes project. Single-story houses are a few blocks away.
Because the Ohlone project is billed as transit-oriented, Oliverio said that city leaders are working on an agreement with the Valley Transportation Authority about building a light rail stop near it. However, VTA officials have said in public meetings that bus lines on West San Carlos already are sufficient for future residents.
Councilman Sam Liccardo, who sits on the VTA board, indicated that it is unlikely that the station would be built because the transit authority is considering eliminating light rail stops -- not adding them -- to enable faster commute times. The VTA also has a $100 million deficit in the next two years, Liccardo said.
"I don't want the community to be misled about when the station will emerge," Liccardo said.
Oliverio and several environmental leaders praised the condo project anyway, saying that less water would be used than in traditional homes because condos lack thirsty lawns. The building's shared walls also would require less construction material and energy.
The overall environmental impact of the project's potential 800 units is far less than building 800 ranch-style homes in, say, Coyote Valley, Oliverio added.
Although the Ohlone Mixed Use project is taller than other hubs, villages and boulevards that San Jose planners envision, council members indicated that its higher density is a sign of things to come.
The city council is expected to consider a zoning permit for the Ohlone Mixed Use project in six months that will determine the number of housing units and the amount of retail space. Oliverio and several residents said they hoped the developer would build a minimum of 30,000 square feet of shops, rather than a proposed maximum of 30,000 square feet.
The council also will decide on details of a proposed park near the Los Gatos Creek Trail that developers have pledged to build. Nancy Ianni, a former San Jose councilwoman, said after the meeting that she was not encouraged by the mass transit options around the Ohlone project. She questioned whether it was the kind of transit-oriented development that she and the council envisioned in the 1992 Midtown Specific Plan.
"It seems to me the most important thing is to provide transit," Ianni said.
For more information on the project and notices of upcoming meetings, visit <http://www.greenrepublicsj.com