UPDATE: San Jose commission defers decision on student housing high-rise
An artist's rendering of The Mark tower. Rendering courtesy of San Jose.

San Jose State students will have to wait even longer for a place to live near campus, following delayed approval of a high-rise apartment tower.

A decision on a downtown student housing project has been deferred another month following an appeal from a neighboring property owner. The San Jose Planning Commission debated Wednesday over how many affordable units will be in the project, and whether there will be rent-controlled units per city mandate. Commissioners voted 7-3, with one abstention, to continue the item on Oct. 13.

The project—a 23-story, 274-foot tower just a block from San Jose State University, plans to add 240 rental apartments to the area. Units will have anywhere from one to four bedrooms.

Should the project be approved, two existing multi-family residential buildings and one single-family home on the site will be demolished. The city’s planning director previously approved the project in July, and it won’t require a vote from the City Council once the San Jose Planning Commission votes on the appeal.

Commissioners Charles Cantrell, Maribel Montañez and Pierluigi Oliverio voted against putting off a decision, and Commissioner Jorge Antonio Garcia recused himself from voting because one of his family members used to live near the project site.

Commissioner Mariel Caballero—noticing confusion among her colleagues, city officials and the applicant about the required affordable units—wants city officials and the developer to meet to resolve the issue.

“What I’m unclear on is what this means for the developer,” Caballero said. “It makes me wonder if we need to take a pause so all of you can get on the same page to figure this out.”

Steve Cohen, the owner of a building behind the proposed development, filed an appeal against the project hoping to block its approval.

Cohen told San José Spotlight there needs to be more public outreach for the high-rise tower, which developing firm Urban Catalyst calls The Mark. According to the city’s website, there was one public meeting for the project in September 2020.

“There should have been five community meetings to vet it, let everyone know what’s going on. It makes a better project,” Cohen said. “We had one community meeting on Zoom and we were told there couldn’t be any more community meetings because of COVID.”

City officials said the COVID-19 pandemic limited meetings online and that the city did its own community outreach.

A majority of residents spoke in support of the project at the meeting, saying it will bring much-needed student housing to downtown. Still, some residents said the project is too big for the area.

“A 23-story glass building will never blend with one-, two- and three-story Victorian homes,” said resident Patricia Curia. “This is the first intrusion of powers east of the downtown core into a thriving neighborhood and should have been planned with more thought into the future.”

The developers say the project will cut into the city and university’s student housing needs, deemed by some experts as a crisis. The firm has snatched up several San Jose properties and ramped up development downtown, including the now-dormant Camera 12 movie theater. It purchased land for the Mark tower development in early 2020 for $6.25 million.

“This project is focused on addressing just one segment of the deep regional need for housing, in particular student housing,” said Paul Ring, partner at Urban Catalyst. “We’re particularly excited about this student-focused housing project because it is an opportunity to invest and bring vibrant housing to students.”

The university has struggled to provide housing to some of its students over the years. A 2019 San José Spotlight report revealed the university offered emergency housing to only six students, and a more recent report found mixed results with an Airbnb housing partnership.

“I do have concerns about the affordability for students who work full-time, low-wage jobs,” said San Jose State student Angelina Perez, though she supports the project. “I hope the applicant will consider future collaboration with the university.”

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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