UPDATE: Senior housing tower heads to San Jose City Council
Roygbiv Real Estate Development wants to gut a two-story historic structure in downtown San Jose, the Realty Building, while maintaining its facade to build a 220-apartment high rise for adults 55 and older. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    The San Jose Planning Commission has given a stamp of approval to a developer seeking to gut a historic building downtown, and put up a high-rise apartment building for older adults.

    Despite some concerns about a lack of parking in the project, and the fate of existing businesses who will be pushed out of their spaces, commissioners unanimously voted to recommend the San Jose City Council approve the development.

    Roygbiv Real Estate Development plans to include 220 apartments for people aged 55 and older and nearly 19,000 square feet of commercial space in a 22-story tower. The olive-green, two-story Realty Building, designated as a city historic landmark since 2001, occupies a 0.22-acre site at 19 N. 2nd St. near the corner of Santa Clara Street.

    The project was previously greenlighted by the Historic Landmarks Commission. The council, which has the final say on the project, will likely vote on the development plans in late March.

    The commission supports the project because of its density, and because all the apartments will be rented at prices that are below market-rate. Commissioners are also happy to see the facade and other elements of the current building will be retained in the new tower.

    “The facade is beautiful, I think it’s a wonderful project,” Commissioner Michael Young said. “Anything that can provide housing, particularly affordable housing downtown, is terrific.”

    This rendering shows what the renovated Realty Building could look like in downtown San Jose after it’s converted from a two-story commercial building into a 220-apartment tower. Image courtesy of San Jose.

    Because the project’s apartments will be reserved as below market-rate, and because it is close to public transit, parking requirements are waived under the state’s housing density bonus law, city staff said. The developer is including no parking spaces for the building, which worried some commissioners, especially for older adults who might have mobility issues.

    “I’m glad it’s affordable housing. This is what we need and what we want and what we’d like to see,” Commissioner Sylvia Ornelas-Wise said. “Of course, I have some concerns with the fact there will not be any parking for all those people.”

    The city also recently chose to cut minimum parking requirements for new development citywide.

    Kurt Anderson, the architect on the project, told commissioners there is a large city-run parking garage across the street from the site.

    Anderson told San José Spotlight the apartments will be for “active seniors” seeking an urban lifestyle. He sees this as an unmet need in downtown San Jose.

    “(For) people that want to live in the downtown core and don’t mind walking,” Anderson said.“I think this thing will fill up in a heartbeat.”

    While all of the apartments will be below-market rate, most will be on the upper end of the affordable housing scales. Loida Kirkley, CEO of Roygbiv, said the project will make roughly 25 apartments affordable to lower income residents earning up to 60% of the area median income, which is currently about $71,000 annually in Santa Clara County for one person.

    The balance of the apartments will be priced as affordable to people earning more than that, up to 120% of the area median income, which is about $141,000 annually for one person.

    Gabrielle Antolovich, a 73-year-old San Jose resident and president of the board for the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ+ Community Center, said she thinks housing for older adults is needed downtown, though she would prefer to see deeper levels of affordability.

    “I love older adult units because so many people are living longer and may not want to leave San Jose for something they can afford better, because when you’ve been around a place, familiarity is really important too,” Antolovich told San José Spotlight. “You know places and people and where to walk, there’s a sense of community even in tiny ways like that.”

    She said the estimated affordability levels of the apartments are likely too pricey for many older adults in the city, especially those who are on fixed incomes from retirement accounts and Social Security.

    Due to the immense wealth in Santa Clara County, apartments for people who earn $140,000 a year are called affordable, something Antolovich said amounts to a paradox.

    “Affordable means poor people can afford it, that’s my translation,” she said.

    Plans call for the facade of the Realty Building to be restored. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    Fate of commercial tenants

    Some commissioners, including Chuck Cantrell, are concerned about the current businesses in the building, and asked if there would be some support for them.

    One longtime tenant in the building is Angelou’s Mexican Grill, a popular spot for California burritos, which opened in the building in 2006.

    “Losing a restaurant is quite expensive to replace. So I’d like to know that there is some accommodation being made, or something is going to happen to help this restaurant relocate, because building a commercial kitchen is no small task,” Cantrell said.

    Kirkley, the developer, told San José Spotlight previously she would provide some sort or relocation assistance to the current business tenants.

    Teresa Lopez, owner of Angelou’s, told San José Spotlight that when the development was first proposed, the current building owners and managers told her nothing about it. She and her husband found out when the city posted a development notice sign in the window next door.

    Lopez said she’s never missed rent, and ate through her savings to make payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s not sure what will happen with her business.

    “This is so sad for us because we’ve been there forever. And now it’s going to be very hard for us to find something else,” Lopez said.

    Cantrell acknowledged the development would displace some, but said the large number of apartments at below market-rate prices for older adults is a big positive.

    “Sometimes we have to make difficult choices,” he said.

    In addition to restoring and maintaining the facade of the building, the plans call for the walls of the building to be retained and integrated in the project, along with a portion of the roof. A “recessed glazed central bay” will run vertically up the center of the restored building, city reports said.

    If approved by the city council, the apartment project could break ground in about 18 months to two years, Anderson said. It would take about two and a half years to build.

    Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

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