Plan to turn old San Jose hospital into urban village criticized
A rendering of the East Santa Clara Master Plan. Photo courtesy of Santa Clara County.

A plan to revitalize a sleepy roadway is getting pushback from residents.

Santa Clara County’s newest project aimed at creating a livelier neighborhood is underway, after lawmakers on Tuesday approved a mixed-use urban village at the former San Jose Medical Center site, but the plan is being sharply criticized for lacking retail or sustainability concepts.

The 12-acre slot project — the East Santa Clara Master Plan — offers space for office and retail use with 550 to 800 units of housing, located at 14th and Santa Clara streets in downtown San Jose. According to a county report, the goal is to create a pedestrian friendly, affordable and mixed housing space.

County officials reported that “the scale of the development will contribute to the density of activity that makes a city energetic and attractive” and that an “active and vibrant” public space relies on an “appropriate mix of amenities.”

“With very little exception, this downtown neighborhood has not been NIMBY at all. They want more retail, housing and office,” said Supervisor Cindy Chavez.

But neighboring residents expressed a desire for more retail and commercial space, particularly walkable restaurants, cafes and a grocery store following the closure of the downtown Safeway.

Many community leaders said the project fails to provide those amenities to the public.

“They say this will be a very active space and that’s good, but of no use to the residents of the adjacent neighborhoods,” said Terry Christensen, a political science professor emeritus at San Jose State University. “With the current design, this will end up being another deadened facade.”

Christensen is concerned about the amount of “restricted open space” within the project — areas between buildings that are gated for the exclusive use of residents. “Where that’s been done, you never see a soul in these spaces,” he added. “The Housing Authority staff said that would be different at this project because these would be areas for kids living in family housing or elders living in senior housing. I hope so — but I’m skeptical.”

A rendering of the East Santa Clara Master Plan. Photo courtesy of Santa Clara County.

The plan is a collaborative effort between Santa Clara County and the Santa Clara County Housing Authority, which also includes office space for the Housing Authority’s offices and an 8,500 square foot public plaza between the two office buildings along East Santa Clara Street.

Housing is needed, said Christensen, but more retail spaces also need to be included to make it a true “urban village” concept.

Otherwise it’s not a village — it’s a housing development with some office space — a disappointment that falls short of the promises the county made, Christensen and other residents said.

The plan currently calls for just two retail spaces. Christensen wants to see the entire first floor of both office buildings filled with retail shops, an effort to create a vibrant corridor. The two office buildings are expected to rise five to six stories.

Catalyze SV, a nonprofit focused on smart development, agreed that the project’s proposed retail quantity is “woefully inadequate.”

The group’s leaders said in a letter that the plan should also provide an alternative to car-centric culture by creating more walkable and bike-friendly pathways and incorporating gardens, taller buildings to improve housing density and sustainability approaches centered around minimizing a carbon footprint.

Some residents say the plan does not consider the historical preservation of the old hospital site, and instead aims to demolish it.

“We want you to respect the structure and its place in our neighborhood,” said county resident April Halberstadt. “The plan that’s coming before us does not reflect the concerns, needs and desires of the neighborhood and fails to understand our overall history. So far — we know we’re just in the planning stages — but we’d like to see the building identified as important.”

Chavez agreed with those concerns and proposed some key amendments to expand the “retail footprint” of the area. She also suggested exploring the preservation of the historic hospital buildings, creating taller buildings for more housing units beyond the 800 unit mark and eliminate the need for a parking structure. She added that a taller building limit is “the only way retail is going to come alive on that street.”

The supervisor called for a retail study with the city of San Jose to address some of those concerns.

“I know we’ve gotten a lot of feedback and input,” added Chavez. “The neighborhood has to have lots of different housing types — it’s a very mixed neighborhood already and that’s what makes it so interesting and beautiful. We’d like to keep it that way.”

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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