A finished white multi-story house next to a wooden house still under construction with scaffolding. In front of the houses is greenery and a pickup truck.
Bellaterra @ North 40, one of the projects of the Los Gatos North 40 developments already built. File photo.

Los Gatos’ famous poles with orange netting and flags are a thing of the past on some development projects in town.

The Los Gatos Town Council on Tuesday voted 3-2 to formalize revisions to its height pole and netting policy for developments. This follows state feedback saying the town must loosen constraints on housing developments to receive certification on its housing element. Councilmembers Rob Moore, Rob Rennie and Maria Ristow voted yes and Mayor Mary Badame and Vice Mayor Matthew Hudes voted no, citing a want for more clarity in notifying residents about development.

Los Gatos previously required height poles, also known as story poles, to be installed at all residential and commercial projects to show the building’s height and scope to residents. With the revisions, housing developments that include at least 30% below-market-rate or 20% low-income homes can bypass the pole requirement in favor of digital renderings. Buildings more than 55 feet tall will be required to provide a rendering, and multi-family homes can choose between poles or a rendering.

The council voted 3-2 to add the affordable housing provision last August. Badame and Hudes voted no, citing a want to keep programs accessible to all residents while balancing developers’ needs.

Rennie said the council’s consideration of the revisions marks a shift in the town from building small housing projects to tackling large-scale developments, where story poles don’t provide a clear picture of the project. He said the story pole policy — implemented in 1998 and altered in 2013 — can be leveraged by residents as a tool to prevent building out the town.

“It is used by people that don’t want a development to occur (as a way) to generate a bunch of angst from people about the size of it and turn out more opposition to it, versus using it really to understand how we might modify it,”Rennie told San José Spotlight.

Los Gatos is one of the few municipalities left in Santa Clara County without a state-certified housing plan due to issues like the story-pole policy, which developers see as a constraint.

The town submitted its housing element — an extensive eight-year plan laying out how it will accommodate more affordable and market-rate housing — to the state last month more than a year past the Jan. 31, 2023 deadline. In the latest version, the town is planning for at least 1,993 homes by 2031, including 847 homes affordable to low-income residents.

Steve Buster, senior vice president of development at Grosvenor Americas Inc., which is building the North 40 project in East Los Gatos, said story poles are cumbersome for large developments. It’s the town’s largest housing project and the developer’s second phase is still waiting for town approval. The project aimed to build 320 homes in its first phase back in 2015, and could build 450 homes along Los Gatos Boulevard in its second phase, including 90 affordable homes.

Grosvenor Americas Inc. submitted a letter last month asking the town council to approve the revisions.

“When you look at a 15-acre project with a multi-family building and a lot of other uses, (poles) really can become very burdensome for cost, time, logistics, all of those things,” Buster told San José Spotlight. “They’re very tough to implement for a big project like ours.”

Story poles are still required when adding a second story to houses on streets with single-story homes. Projects will still be required to post signs listing information about the development.

Los Gatos resident Ali Miano, who has lived in town since age 5, said the poles are helpful in some cases where the project may change the look of the town and how it blends in with the environment. She still supports the revisions, as long as there is some kind of rendering available to the public.

“When those (story poles) go up, that’s the alert to me, like, ‘Hey, this is going to block our view of the mountains,'” she told San José Spotlight. “‘No way is this building going in like this.'”

Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story had a lower number of affordable homes expected to be built in the second phase of North 40.

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