Massive Santa Clara project with tall towers blocked by FAA
A rendering shows Kylli Inc's vision for Mission Point, a 49-acre development in Santa Clara. The Chinese developer is reworking its plan after the FAA said it had concerns about the proposal's height. Image courtesy of Kylli

One of the largest proposed developments in Santa Clara will get a shakeup this year after the Federal Aviation Administration raised red flags about the tall towers in the project, according to the developer, Kylli Inc.

The Chinese developer has been working since early 2018 on a tall, mixed-use proposal called Mission Point that would span around 10.6 million square feet with buildings reaching 370 feet tall or higher on a 49-acre property once owned by Yahoo. Now the FAA has told the developer that buildings taller than 61 feet — or about six stories — pose a problem on the site at 3005 Democracy Way because of concerns about radar interference.

“We think there’s a lot of room around that height,” Randi Gerson, vice president of real estate development for Kylli, said in an interview with San José Spotlight. “We know that if we work with our consultant and work with the FAA we can find a different height that is not 61 feet, but it’s not going to be 370 feet, either.”

Kylli is an American subsidiary of Chinese pharmaceuticals and real estate company Genzon.

Gerson said she’s confident the company will work out a solution with the FAA using technology and architectural changes. The FAA did not raise concerns about other safety issues, like emergency landing pathways or sight lines, she added. And the red flag didn’t come entirely as a surprise.

“Considering the site’s location, concerns from the aviation community were expected and common in the area, most notably experience by Levi’s Sstadium,” Kylli officials wrote in a letter last week to Andrew Crabtree, Santa Clara’s community development director.

The height decrease may also help address community concerns around traffic, she added — a silver lining in the situation.

The challenge now will be to find a middle ground. But that may not be a bad thing for the developer, said Bob Staedler, principal with land use consultancy Silicon Valley Synergy.

“It’s cheaper to build sub-15 stories than 30-plus stories, so there’s tradeoffs,” he said. “It’s one of those things where when you have 50 acres you have the ability to distribute the leasable area around, so I think they can still make this work.”

Mission Point, as the development is called, sits in a part of Santa Clara that city leaders have been envisioning for dense, mixed-use projects that include housing and amenities as well as potentially some kind of shuttle system to help residents and workers take advantage of the nearby transit options, like Caltrain and light rail.

Santa Clara city officials discussed branding the area “City North” last month and creating a high-level framework to guide the envisioned dense development in the area.

Meanwhile, another massive project in the area, called Related Santa Clara, is already under construction nearby. Eventually the Related Santa Clara project, once known as City Place, will include more than 9 million square feet of development.

“It is important for our city staff to be able to coordinate all these specific plans that are coming together and to have some principles and guidelines to make sure they all end up being compatible with one another,” Vice Mayor Patricia Mahan said of the City North plan last month.

Councilmember Debi Davis told the developer last year that while imagining towers that high in Santa Clara was “shocking,” she and other councilmembers were open to seeing a more fleshed out proposal. The City Council allowed Kylli to move ahead with community outreach and to start studying the development’s environmental impacts and feasibility.

Kylli re-submitted plans to city planners in April this year with changes officials said responded to community feedback by reducing heights. At that time, the developer aimed to bring 6,000 new residential units, 3.65 million square feet of office space, 400,000 square feet of retail, a new hotel, daycare facilities and a school to the property.

It’s Its next iteration of the plan will likely come around the end of the year, Gerson estimated, though she noted the company only recently got the news from the FAA and was “just starting to develop a plan.” The changes shouldn’t significantly delay the project overall because the environmental work being done now for the development is for a larger project, meaning the new iteration will fit within the envelope of that study.

“We are really excited about a high-density plan,” Gerson said. “We think a mixed-use approach is really the best approach for the neighborhood and we’re trying to find a technically sound, community supportable and economically viable solution to this.”

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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