UPDATE: San Jose officials approve housing at VTA train station
VTA wants to develop housing along its light rail train stations. File photo.

    San Jose is one step closer to seeing more commuters living next to their neighborhood transit stops.

    On Tuesday, the San Jose City Council unanimously approved hundreds of residences near the Blossom Hill light rail station. The project is part of VTA’s long-term plan to develop its land along the agency’s transit corridors. By leasing surplus land near light rail stations to private developers or government housing agencies, VTA hopes to collect steady revenue from leases and new riders. The transportation agency sees this as a strategy to address Santa Clara County’s housing shortage and its own financial problems.

    With developer Republic Urban Properties, VTA will construct two multi-story buildings on a 7.42-acre site at 605 Blossom Hill Road. The development will include 328 apartments, more than 13,500 square feet of commercial space and an 800 square-foot community room.

    A VTA spokesperson told San José Spotlight approximately 89 of the 328 apartments, or 27%, will be designated for affordable housing. VTA housing projects require at least 20% affordable housing, but in June agency officials voted to increase the minimum affordable housing ratio to 25%.

    San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and several residents raised concerns over public transit accessibility for the development’s future residents.

    “We’re on a VTA site, next to a light rail station. Why isn’t there a commitment to VTA transit passes (for residents)?” Liccardo said. “This fundamentally undermines an awful lot of what we’re trying to accomplish in this city.”

    The public transit agency will consider offering rider passes closer to the project’s groundbreaking, VTA spokesperson Jessie O’Malley Solis said.

    “There’s no doubt that we’re interested in gaining ridership from developments like this,” O’Malley Solis said. “We’re going to be sitting down and really thinking about how we market and make transit passes accessible to all the new residents at these locations.”

    The project is expected to break ground in 2024 after a delay during the environmental review process, according to Melissa Durkin, project representative for the developer.

    Keeping the community in mind is critical in a project like this one, said Catalyze SV Executive Director Alex Shoor. The group compiled a report on the Blossom Hill project, rating it a four out of five across categories like community outreach, transportation accessibility and affordability.

    “The best way to reduce traffic and congestion is to build less parking and encourage other ways of getting around,” Shoor told San José Spotlight. “VTA transit passes, when they’re given free to residents, are a great incentive.”

    VTA has 11 residential projects underway, which are anticipated to increase annual revenue by $30 million in the upcoming years. During the pandemic ridership plummeted and revenue from fares sunk. Last year, the agency projected its expenses will exceed revenues by $47.5 million by 2031.

    ​​Other transit-oriented developments already in progress include a 569-unit housing project, with 135 apartments set aside for affordable housing near VTA’s Tamien station. VTA has 25 sites eligible for future development. The agency anticipates it will build more than 7,000 residences by 2040, officials said.

    Meanwhile, San Jose remains one of the most expensive areas for renters at a time of growing wealth inequality.

    Councilmember Matt Mahan, whose district encompasses the Blossom Hill development, said building much-needed housing and investing in amenities which include a trail connection to Martial Cottle Park is a real win for the community.

    “My only frustration has been how slow our process has been on the city side,” Mahan told San José Spotlight before the vote. “We have to invest in our Planning Department to reduce vacancies and streamline our review process.”

    It could still take years for the project to be completed amid an ongoing housing crisis, Shoor said.

    “Housing that’s not built today (means the) people who need it aren’t getting into it,” he said. “We want to see, once a city council blesses a project, the developer move forward quickly.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

    Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the amount of revenue expected to be generated from VTA’s ground leases.

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