San Jose development leaves residents, local groups wanting more
Jolanta Kobylinski is the owner of Heartbeat Cafe at Cambrian Park Plaza. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

Renee Heymann, owner of K9 Keep Fit, a dog daycare across the street from the Cambrian Park Plaza in San Jose, relies on the plaza’s iconic carousel sign to tell customers where her business is.

“It’s nostalgic,” Heymann said of the plaza. “Everyone knows this place. It has a quaintness to it.”

A massive redevelopment of the nostalgic plaza, which has been in the works since 2017, underwent some changes in January, including a decrease in the number of stories of the residential building from seven stories to six stories Local community advocacy groups Catalyze SV and Friends of Cambrian Park Plaza evaluated the project this month and in January, respectively.

The plan has been revised many times prompted by demands from residents and the district’s Councilmember Pam Foley. Foley held a community meeting this month to discuss the project’s plans for open space.

While residents of the Cambrian Park neighborhood in San Jose are elated that developers aren’t going to touch their carousel, they’re still hoping that developer Weingarten Realty will share their vision for a mixed-use, walkable and sustainable development at Cambrian Park Village.

“We’re looking for more levels of affordability,” said Alex Shoor, executive director of Catalyze SV, a nonprofit focused on advocating for affordable housing and environmentally-friendly housing projects in San Jose. “This is a big, important project with a lot of vibrancy, community engagement and community input.”

The project to revitalize the Cambrian Park Plaza plans to bring 25 townhomes, 48 single-family homes with 18 attached accessory dwelling units and 305 apartments to the area. As per a city housing policy, the developer will have to either make 15 percent of the housing affordable or pay a 20% “in-lieu” fee to fund affordable housing projects.

The project also calls for a senior living center, a hotel with 229 rooms, 55,000 square feet of commercial space and 6.7 acres of public open space, including a 2.3-acre public park.

Residents of the neighborhood have been vocal about including on-site affordable housing . They’re also demanding buildings do not rise higher than three stories and that traffic in the area is mitigated.

Jolanta Kobylinski, owner of Heartbeat Cafe, has been nestled inside the historic plaza for more than 25 years. Kobylinski said she’s concerned the project will bring unmanageable traffic to the already-congested area.

“There is a lot of controversy because there’s a lot of traffic at this intersection right now,” Kobylinski said. “I think that’s the main concern for us.”

Kobylinski said developers will give her at least a one-year notice should they decide to demolish the businesses there, and have promised a new place for her café. How long that might take is what worries her. “Hopefully with the help of my daughter, we can open a new place in a new shopping center,” she said.

Advocacy group Friends of Cambrian Park Plaza has been lobbying Weingarten for changes, such as moving a playground to keep it away from the street, consolidating the plan’s green space and addressing a road that runs through the project, which could endanger cyclists and people walking inside the park.

“A lot of detail has been added, but little has fundamentally changed since last year, despite significant community feedback,” said a statement from Friends of Cambrian Park Plaza. “Several of the clarifications actually appear to make the situation worse.”

The Cambrian Park Plaza sign, known by locals for the carousel on top. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

In order to maintain its “signature project” status, which is a development within an urban village area that advances transit-friendly communities, the redesign must include a certain mix of housing, commercial space and employment opportunities. The developer has obliged with the plans while trying to maintain the neighborhood’s “small-neighborhood feel.”

“Balancing communities is really important,” Foley told San José Spotlight. “I want to be able to go there and watch people hang out and have a good time.”

The village has earned mostly high marks from community organizations on aspects such as the inclusion of more walkable space and more green spaces.

Catalyze SV praised the mixed uses of the project but hoped for more affordable housing, transit and bike parking to manage traffic better.

Neither the city nor the developer has proposed a definitive timeline for the project.

“The most important thing is that we have to make a community where people can afford to live here,” Shoor said. “That’s how economic growth occurs.”

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

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