Downtown Santa Clara development on hold
This commercial building at 940-950 Monroe St. in Santa Clara would be demolished to make way for a 50-condominium complex under a developer's proposal. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    After a long night of loud public pushback, the Santa Clara City Council decided to hold off on greenlighting a significant housing and retail complex in the city’s downtown.

    City Attorney Glen Googins suggested councilmembers postpone a decision on a housing and retail development at 950 Monroe St. until the Downtown Precise Plan—a redevelopment strategy to improve accessibility and bring greater economic opportunity into the city—is approved. The city council will hold another public hearing, given various concerns about the project’s timing and how it fits into current city code.

    The council voted 4-1 on Tuesday to let developer Lamb Partners LLC modify the plans and gather more public feedback before holding another public hearing. Councilmember Anthony Becker was the sole “no,” while Mayor Lisa Gillmor recused herself and Councilmember Suds Jain was absent.

    The project proposes a three- to six-story, 72,000-square-foot complex with more than 50 multi-family and single-family homes and nearly 4,000 square feet of retail space, on about 0.87 acres. Lamb Partners revised its initial 2020 plans to designate 20% of homes as affordable housing. The complex requires amending the general plan to allow for greater housing density and the potential to construct up to eight stories in a specific section of the downtown.

    Proposed mixed-use development on Monroe Street in Santa Clara. Rendering courtesy of Lamb Partners LLC.

    Randy Lamb of Lamb Partners, who attended the downtown task force meetings, said he decided to move the project forward before the city’s Downtown Precise Plan was approved.

    “You can’t consider future laws to judge current projects,” Lamb told councilmembers.

    Ahead of the meeting, Santa Clara resident Lucy Haro circulated a petition gathering more than 800 signatures in opposition. Her petition claimed the project could set a precedent and allow all mixed-use properties within this specific area to become highly dense.

    City staffers emphasized the amendment would only apply to this particular development, not adjacent areas. The project’s standards are different from the Downtown Precise Plan, which is still a draft and must come back to the city council by the end of the year.

    Mixed-use development proposed for Monroe Street in Santa Clara has residents concerned about its height and density. Rendering courtesy of Lamb Partners LLC.

    Residents like Rodger Waldorf worry the project could lead to the demolition of two of three homes at the site that are more than 100 years old.

    “These homes are part of our heritage and have historical and architectural value,” Waldorf said. “They are irreplaceable and should not be sacrificed for short-term profit.”

    City officials said as of 2021, updated plans will save one home on that parcel.

    Others spoke in support of the development at the meeting. Santa Clara resident Robert Fitch said the project’s proposed building heights are not that unusual compared to projects approved in other parts of the city.

    Resident Steve Kelly praised that the development is within walking distance of Santa Clara’s train station, a future BART station.

    “This project will revitalize the downtown area,” Kelly said. “Density is needed to support other local restaurants and local retail shops. I think it fits well in the neighborhood.”

    Becker said he heard from residents that Lamb’s team had not been communicating with the community. He questioned why the developer would move forward before approval of the new downtown plan.

    “I often feel there’s no TLC into what is best for Santa Clara, not developers,” Becker said. “It checks the guidelines, but doesn’t actually capture the spirit of these neighborhoods.”

    Councilmember Kathy Watanabe said she’s seen Lamb’s developments in Redwood City and Menlo Park and how it has added to growth in those areas. Watanabe said she’d like to see the same thing happen in Santa Clara.

    “Based on the fact that as many others have said we need more housing, we need affordable housing, this I believe can be a good kickstart for the downtown to bring in some tax revenue,” Watanabe said. “It (can) add some vibrancy to a neighborhood that people have been longing for a long time now.”

    Contact Natalie Hanson at [email protected] or @nhanson_reports on Twitter.

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