Proposed Cambrian Park development is first test case for San Jose’s new affordable housing fee
An illustration of the proposed Cambrian Park development. Photo courtesy of Weingarten Realty.

    The proposed Cambrian Park village, featuring a walkable Main Street connecting a central park to shops, restaurants and homes, could be one of the first developments to pay San Jose’s recently adopted commercial linkage fee designed to support future affordable housing projects.

    The project from Weingarten Realty plans to bring an additional 25 townhomes, 48 single-family homes and 305 apartments to the area, meaning the developer will have to either make 15 percent of the housing affordable or pay a 20 percent “in lieu” fee to comply with the city’s existing Inclusionary Housing Ordinance.

    If Weingarten decides to forgo affordable housing, it would pay $157,000 for each for-sale home and $125,000 per rental unit.

    Depending on the kind of commercial real estate that is added to the mix, Weingarten will have to cough up more cash since the San Jose City Council this week approved new fees paid by commercial developers to fund affordable housing.

    Any commercial spaces Weingarten creates, such as the proposed hotel and 165,000-square-foot senior assisted-living facility, could be subject to fees ranging from $3 to $20 per square foot.

    The council has a little under two months to establish an exact fee for residential-care facilities and projects that include low-income units. But based on previous recommendations, that fee will likely be around $6 per square foot.

    “Weingarten will comply with the city’s fee obligations whatever they may be,” Meagan Froehlich, a spokesperson for Weingarten Realty, told San José Spotlight. “We have been following the commercial linkage fee proposal and are still reviewing the program the City Council approved earlier this week.”

    It may seem counterintuitive for developers to pay additional fees for new housing when residential units are included in their plans, but Weingarten may decide to sell the majority of its units at market-rate, squeezing out lower-income residents who couldn’t afford to move to the revamped area.

    “I’m not sure if they’re claiming to include affordable housing … but I think that they should,” Cambrian Park resident Monica Mallon said. “We really have a shortage of affordable housing and we should have more of it in District 9 in general.”

    Froehlich said Weingarten is still deliberating specifics on whether affordable housing will be provided on site, whether they will pay an in-lieu fee or a combination of the two options.

    “We look forward to community and city input on the matter,” Froehlich said.

    Retired Mountain View Fire Chief Michael Young has lived in Cambrian Park since 1985 and said Weingarten should build transitional housing and affordable housing, in addition to market-rate housing.

    “We bought our house in 1985 for $126,000, which at the time was a lot of money for us. I mean, I was a firefighter and my wife didn’t work but we were able to do that,” Young said. “And now the homes in my neighborhood are selling for a million and a half dollars. So, the folks like teachers and nurses, police officers and firefighters — and even people who work in really well paying tech jobs — they can’t afford to buy houses here.”

    The median price for a home in Cambrian park now is $1.2 million and the median rent is $3,322, according to Zillow. Census data shows the neighborhood comprises largely of white residents, ages 50 to 59.

    Young is trying to change this.

    “We’ve been forming a group called Cambrian For All, which is the idea that we want to make Cambrian more affordable for people of all socio-economic groups and more welcoming to younger people, people of color, people of all different cultures and races,” Young said. “And so to the extent that we can, we should have good smart development, mid-rise housing, mid-rise retail on our major streets. I think that would make Cambrian a better place.”

    Over the years, the neighborhood has fallen into disarray, sporting vacant buildings and a shuttered bowling alley, according to Young.

    Bill Sylvester, who used to live close to Cambrian Park, said he is eager to bike ride in the village amid new restaurants.

    “I bicycle a lot and I’m a coffee guy so being able to cycle there and have a coffee is great,” Sylvester said.

    Sylvester now lives farther from the neighborhood and expressed concerns about traffic congestion coming in and out of the area once it is developed. Parking is also a subject of debate among residents, including Mallon.

    The original plan consisted of an above-ground parking structure for the development but the new design submitted Aug. 26 incorporates underground parking.

    “At first, I was a little bit concerned about the original design but I think that this new design is really great. And the developer really listened to feedback from the community and made it a lot better,” Mallon said. “Everyone that lives here will admit that it’s a little bit old and a little bit run down. I’m really looking forward to having the park there.”

    The new plan boasts more than six acres of open space and calls for 1,000 parking stalls underground.

    According to Councilmember Pam Foley, previous iterations of the plan were unacceptable. She said Weingarten listened over the past few years to resident calls for more open space and maintaining historic aspects of the community, such as the famous carousel and the farmer’s market.

    Foley said she hopes Heartbeat Café and other longstanding businesses and tenants receive first priority for new rental space so they can continue service to the neighborhood.

    “Many of the residents in Cambrian Park want to preserve that sense of community and what life was like 30,40, 50 years ago when life was slower and easier paced,” Foley said. “For certain, when this project is built, you will be able to sit in some of the outdoor spaces and really enjoy life and relax.”

    Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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