A plan to build 14 condominiums in West San Jose, including two inside a reconstructed replica of a historic home, is moving forward.
The San Jose Planning Commission unanimously approved a proposal from Los Altos-based Edge Development Group Aug. 9 to build the “townhome-style” condos on a 0.63-acre lot at 4146 Mitzi Drive, at the corner of Mitzi and Ranchero Way.
The San Jose City Council will weigh final approval at a later date.
The proposal includes a plan to rebuild the Graves House, a historic farmhouse partially destroyed in a fire in November and demolished by the developer in May.
Some commissioners asked about recent postings advertising the project site for sale.
Erik Schoennauer, a land use consultant working for Edge, said the owners and developer haven’t made a decision on whether they will construct the project, or sell the lot along with the entitlements.
“Because of the challenges in the financing market, the capital market right now, we are exploring all options and our goal is to get this project built as soon as possible,” Schoennauer told commissioners. “But we may build it. It just depends on what the market is telling us.”
Commissioner Anthony Tordillos also called out an exemption being made to allow the developer to build a project at a slightly lower density than city plans call for in the neighborhood.
Alec Atienza, a planner with the city, said the reduced density exemption is needed to allow for the relocation and reconstruction of the Graves House. It also helps the project serve as a “transition zone” between less dense single-family homes and more dense apartments around the project site.
Tordillos noted the city approved low density, single-family homes near a BART station earlier this year, causing some controversy. At the time, staff noted the density requirements needed to be followed to give developers clarity on what they should build.
Tordillos wondered about the logic of granting density requirement exemptions for the current project.
“There’s a lot to like in this project and I definitely would love to see the Graves House reconstructed,” Tordillos said. “I want to make sure we’re being intentional and consistent in the way that we apply these (density) rules.”
The development plans come more than three years after a previous proposal for 46 apartments on the site was approved in 2020, but never got off the ground under Edge’s ownership due to financial constraints.
Edge’s plans for the site originally called for the Graves House—an Italianate-style home built on the site in 1868—to be rehabilitated and relocated on the lot, and converted into two condominiums.
Following the fire, Edge salvaged “significant architectural materials and features in reusable condition” and plans to use them to reconstruct the home and build a duplex within it, city reports said.
“We are trying to rebuild the Graves House and will try to make it look as close to the original as we could,” Ciyavash Moazzami, a partner with Edge, told San José Spotlight.
The home was eligible for listing in the California Register of Historical Resources as a “distinctive example of early Italianate residential architecture in the region,” city reports said. It was also eligible for city landmark status because it exemplified “the early economic and historic heritage of an area of the city in West San Jose that was within its sphere of influence during the nineteenth century.”
Moazzami said homeless people broke into the property multiple times before it ultimately caught fire.
“We did everything we could to secure the home, but they were very determined to get into the house and live there,” he said.
Smaller fires preceded the one that destroyed the home, as well as pleas from local preservationists to better secure the property.
“The site was unsecured for a very long time. It was known there were squatters and it was something of an encampment site,” Ben Leech, president of Preservation Action Council San Jose, told San José Spotlight. The group included the home on its “Endangered 8” list of historic properties and structures that are being neglected or are otherwise at risk in the city.
Leech said the property owners failed to do some “basic things” his group asked them to do, like installing a security system and making the fencing on the property less porous.
“We are going to continue to point to that as something we consider a worst case scenario of when a building sits vacant, this is what can and will happen to it,” Leech said.
He said developers often buy properties with historic buildings on them, vacate any tenants during their efforts to get redevelopment projects approved, and then the historic structures end up languishing when development plans fall apart for myriad reasons.
“An abandoned house sitting for one year with a porous fence is a lot different than four years,” Leech said.
The developer’s plans to “faithfully reconstruct” the home using some of the original building fabrics is a “silver lining,” he said.