SANTA CLARA — A developer’s revised request to rezone a tract of land on Pioneer Parkway for higher-density housing was recommended for approval by the Santa Clara Planning Commission on Thursday night.
After the 3-1 vote with three members absent, the proposal now goes back to the Santa Clara City Council, which was divided on whether to approve the rezoning when it last came before them in April.
A group of residents has filed a petition against the development, known as Pioneer Pointe, and the opposition was visibly present at the Thursday night hearing as almost every seat was filled in the Santa Clara Town Hall council chambers.
Of the 17 residents who spoke during the public hearing, 16 voiced opposition to the proposal. The other resident had a question as to whether a future owner would also have to abide by whatever zoning decision was made, to which City Attorney Matt Ence responded and said they would.
Resident Ann Hughes came up to the podium with a “No rezoning” sign, which Ence asked Hughes to put away.
“Well, you know what it says,” Hughes said. “You never listen to us. You just let (the developer) keep making changes. He’s provided something beautiful but it needs to be on some other property. I don’t know how many times we need to say this because it feels like no one is listening to us.”
The developer, Clayton Leavitt, has requested that the property between 400 East and Patricia Drive bordered by the parkway and Tuscany Drive be changed from low-density (three homes per acre) to medium-density (eight homes per acre.)
Leavitt reiterated before the commission on Thursday night that his goal is to provide housing for many of the people who work in Santa Clara that can’t afford to live there.
“Our ultimate goal is to sell homes to Santa Clara residents,” Leavitt said. “Right now, quarter-acre lots are going for $800,000 and $900,000. No one in Santa Clara can afford that.”
When the Planning Commission last heard the proposal on March 23, also with a nearly full chamber, the commission stalemated in a 3-3 vote. That provided neither a recommendation nor a rejection to the City Council.
During its April 12 meeting, the City Council voted, 3-2, to table the request and give the developer a chance to revise the proposal. Two council members expressed that they wanted to reject the proposal and two others suggested they would be narrow yes votes in the name of bringing more housing to the city.
Council member Ben Shakespeare said the proposal was too dense but wanted to send the proposal back to the Planning Commission for a less dense revision, rather than a full rejection that would keep the developer from proposing another rezoning for at least a year.
Both he and fellow council member Leina Mathis, who expressed support for the proposal, suggested it be more in line with the five homes per acre of the surrounding community.
The proposal put before the Planning Commission on Thursday reduced the number of housing units from 144, or 7.96 units per acre, to 133, or 7.35 units per acre. The number of multi-family townhomes was reduced from 75 to 51, while the number of single-family homes was increased from 69 to 82. The open recreation area in the center that would include a swimming pool and pickleball courts was retained.
“The difference is 11 units, The reduction is about 8%,” City Planner Jim McNulty said to the commission, asking for the zoning to be approved. “The new plan includes 68% single-family homes. The previous plan was 48%.”
Multiple residents who spoke said it is the townhomes that remain the problem.
“We are not opposed to the development of single-family homes,” resident David Pond said. “The greater need is for single-family homes, not more multi-family units.”
Planning Commission member James Call said the 8% reduction in density wasn’t enough to change his “no” vote from the last time the proposal came before the commission.
“I generally oppose changes in zoning where neighbors are opposed. There’s some good reasons for that,” Call said. “The density is just too dense. I don’t see anything compelling to change the way I voted last time.”
Fellow member Curtis Whitehead, who had a “no” vote the last time, said he was changing his vote to a yes. He said while he agreed that resident opposition should be heard, he felt it was ultimately up to the City Council to decide.
“My opinion was changed because it’s not my job to decide what’s best for residents. That’s the City Council’s job. They’re the ones who are elected,” Whitehead said. “Our duty is to make sure the application is complete and recommend it move on. An 8% density change may not be a substantial number but when you see a 14% increase in single-family homes, that’s a significant change.”
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