More delays for Tropicana development in East San Jose
La Placita Tropicana along Story Road and King Road in East San Jose is the site for a proposed three-story development. Photo courtesy of city of San Jose.

It’s been four years since Dennis Fong, a Chinese-American businessman with a strained relationship with City Hall, proposed a three-story office and retail building in the heart of East San Jose.

But the nearly $10 million project, planned for Story and King roads, has yet to break ground. Instead, it’s been riddled with red tape and stalled by community backlash.

John Tu, a San Jose supervising planner for the project, said his office has been flooded by concerns regarding traffic, public works, parking, transportation, utilities and easement rights.

To address comments about parking easements on the project site, Tu asked Fong last month to provide additional revisions to his proposal, including a map showing which areas of the parking lot he owns. The revisions require clarification on the site’s easement rights.

Tu said Fong has a year to provide those revisions, or the project is considered “inactive.”

“Some of the other issues, such as parking, we’re going to have to further discuss that,” Tu said. “But as far as our concern about parking, it’s not like it’s another retail building. It has complimented uses. That should generally help with overlap.”

The proposed office and retail uses have different parking needs at different hours of the day, Tu said, helping to ease potential congestion. He added that Fong’s proposal “meets the parking requirements.”

The city recently released an environmental analysis for the project, which found the project would not have a “significant impact” on air quality, traffic and transportation with mitigation, but prompted complaints from some community leaders who called for a detailed traffic analysis.

Dennis Fong speaks to a reporter in his office at La Placita Tropicana. Photo by Kyle Martin.

Fong, who owns La Placita Tropicana, proposed the mixed-use development in 2015, calling for 10,996 square feet of retail and 20,748 square feet of office space. It’s a building he hopes to call his “legacy.”

“This would become the most unique, signature building in East San Jose,” Fong told San José Spotlight in a recent interview. “It’s a building that will celebrate the culture, the history, the heritage and the pride of the Latino community.”

Fong said he hopes to pay homage to those who patronize the market by designing the building to look like “an Aztec Temple” because the shopping center “belongs to the Latino community.”

But some East Side business owners say the new development will exacerbate traffic and parking woes.

“We’re already too saturated in this area, in the shopping center,” Artemio Calderon, owner of Calderon’s Tires next to Tropicana, said in an interview with San José Spotlight. “From 1 o’clock in the afternoon to 9 o’clock at night, we’re too busy.”

Unlike other areas of San Jose that are seeing tremendous growth, Calderon believes the Tropicana center need to shrink down and needs more parking. “I think the development should be pushed by merchants, not the landlord,” Calderon said. “The merchants will know the needs for them to be able to operate better.”

Santa Clara County Planning Commissioner Aarón Reséndez, who lives near La Placita, said the shopping center can’t handle more traffic, especially on weekends.

“You can not imagine how many businesses are going to fail when the construction is done,” Reséndez said. “For the property owner that is going to build, oh yes, it’s going to be a lot of money.“

But Fong rebuffed the criticism by pointing to a plan to deal with congestion and parking challenges, which he’s already proposed to the city. Fong suggested adding another driveway to mitigate traffic through the parking lot onto King Road. His development would replace about four rows of parking.

The study released by the city last month said 560 parking spaces will be available on the project site — once it’s finished — exceeding the requirement for 447 spaces.

Fong and San Jose City Hall have a somewhat storied history.

Fong sued San Jose for a violation of his civil rights when the city tried to take over his property in La Placita for new development — a lawsuit he settled with the city in 2005 to the tune of $6.5 million.

Since then, Fong has been acquiring land and property in the East San Jose shopping center for decades, planning for the grand expansion.

Fong said he also plans to bring WSS — a retail shoe, clothing and athletic gear franchise — to take over the entire bottom floor of the retail space, and use the upper floors for businesses such as medical offices.

“This is something the community can be proud of,” Fong said.

Contact Kyle Martin at kylebmartin96@gmail.com or follow him @Kyle_Martin35 on Twitter.

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