Editorial: San Jose’s Winchester Urban Village Plan could get messy
The six-story hotel on Winchester Boulevard will be built on the site of commercial buildings that used to be single-story houses. Photo by Jana Kadah.

San Jose has a three-mile vision for the west side of the city that will change Winchester Boulevard forever.

The Winchester Urban Village Plan stretches from Interstate 280 to just shy of E. Hamilton Avenue. The goal is to seamlessly develop this portion of the Winchester Boulevard corridor with compatible architecture, open space and expansive sidewalks. The urban village would anchor to Santana Row on the north end.

Sounds good, right? Except there could be a problem.

Achieving this goal means any developer with a slice of land in the game needs to buy into a design the flows together. That’s highly unlikely, unless it’s one developer with a master plan.

Within the city’s 180-mile footprint, 60 locations have been identified for redevelopment under the urban village strategy, which is defined as a location that can accommodate future growth in jobs and housing. They are part of the city’s Envision San Jose 2040 General Plan. More than a dozen have already been approved, including the Winchester Urban Village.

The first stab at the Urban Village Plan is the Winchester Hotel project at 1212 Winchester Blvd, just north of Payne Avenue. The residents who live in the neighborhood behind the future six-story, 119-room hotel have cried foul. Many of them belong to the Hamann Park Neighborhood Association. They have concerns about traffic congestion, pollution, neighborhood safety and overall quality of life.

Back in January neighbors met with the owner, Adam Askari, and pitched him on changing the hotel from six stories to three. They asked if the hotel could be set back further along the side and back from property owners. They even suggested changing the project to a shopping center instead of a hotel. But neither side could agree on anything, and in the end the plans remained unchanged.

Last week the city’s deputy planning director green-lit the 107,079-square-foot hotel, and residents have 10 days from last week’s hearing to appeal.

On paper the project has met all the guidelines— height, setbacks, privacy. Except the parking. It’s designed with 66 parking spots, instead of the required 129. Here, the deputy planning director agreed to the 49% reduction, because the project would include shuttle services, ride-share options, VTA passes and financial incentives for employees who bike, or walk to work.

Yes, on paper the parking solution looks good too—even though we know how it will play out. Most guests and employees are going to drive, because other than Uber and Lyft, buses are the only public transportation option. The parking also doesn’t take into account other individuals visiting the hotel.

The bottom line is parking will overflow onto adjacent streets. There will be unintended consequences. Maybe the city could create a permit parking designation for the neighborhood.

What’s more unclear, though, is how this project and every future project will fit into the Winchester grand plan. Inside the plan document, Guiding Principle 5 states, “New development within the Urban Village should be well integrated within, and respectful of, and compatible with adjacent existing neighborhoods.”

So far, that doesn’t sound like it’s happening with the hotel project.

Should there not be neighborhood buy-in? The Urban Village Plan—five years in the making—was a collaborative endeavor between city and community. Shouldn’t it continue to be so, especially for residents directly affected on the east and west sides of Winchester Boulevard?

And, if the goal according to the city’s 143-page planning document is to “guide the characteristics of future development, including buildings, parks, plazas and placemaking,” who better than the residents to have a say? They will be there long after the developers and city officials have moved on.

Just because everything about a project pencils out on paper, doesn’t mean it’s the right fit. San Jose needs to embrace community input in how urban villages are integrated into the city’s long-term goals. If not, what will these urban villages look like in the future? There are no do-overs.

Moryt Milo is San José Spotlight’s editorial advisor. She has more than 20 years of experience in Silicon Valley journalism, including roles as the editor for the Silicon Valley Business Journal and as a reporter and editor with the Silicon Valley Community Newspapers. Follow Moryt at @morytmilo on Twitter and catch up on her monthly editorials here

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