San Jose’s Berryessa neighborhood to see hundreds more homes
A train passes by part of a potential development that could bring hundreds of homes to San Jose's Berryessa neighborhood. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    A San Jose developer’s plan to build up to 850 homes and a large commercial space near Berryessa BART received the green light from city officials.

    The San Jose City Council unanimously approved the project on Tuesday, though not before it touched off a debate about whether the city should be stricter with density and affordable housing requirements when considering new development proposals.

    Rob Facchino of Terracommercial Real Estate Corporation plans to clear out existing businesses on a 13-acre plot at 1655 Berryessa Road to make way for hundreds of condominiums and apartments.

    The plans also call for 24 single-family homes, 24 townhomes and up to 455,00 square feet of commercial space, all across from the longstanding Berryessa flea market site where more homes are already planned, along with offices, retail and restaurants.

    The project will contribute to the city’s vision for the Berryessa BART Urban Village area plan. Urban village plans outline areas of focused growth around pockets of the city close to transit lines, with goals of creating denser housing and commercial development, and walkable neighborhoods.

    While the council commended the developer for following guidelines of previously approved village plans, some raised concerns that more homes could have been fit into this space.

    “This is a lost opportunity in a major transit hub. The densities on this should be super duper high,” Vice Mayor Rosemary Kamei said.

    Her comments echoed concerns heard in past hearings and in emails to the city from housing policy experts and advocates.

    “Detached single-family homes do not fulfill the potential set forth in Berryessa’s Urban Village plan,” Erika Pinto, a manager with public policy advocacy nonprofit SPUR, wrote to city officials. “People want to remain here or move here, and San Jose simply does not have enough housing available.”

    Kamei noted that in her District 1, a project with nearly 1,000 homes with up to 11-story heights is moving ahead, in an area without a major transit stop.

    District 4 Councilmember David Cohen, who represents Berryessa, issued a memo with Mayor Matt Mahan asking planning staff to work on getting the council’s input earlier in the process on major development projects, and to prioritize housing density in urban villages.

    Kamei, as well as Councilmember Arjun Batra, also raised concerns about the lack of certainty around the potential number of affordable homes in the Berryessa project.

    Erik Schoennauer, a land use consultant representing the developer, said the project aims to have nearly 700 apartments and condos priced as below market rate, at varying levels for people earning up to 80% of the area median income. He noted the developer cannot guarantee that part of the plan will come to fruition.

    The requirements on the developer for affordable housing are “murky,” Deputy City Attorney Johnny Phan said.

    In Santa Clara County, a single person earning up to $96,000 annually could be eligible for a home priced for those earning 80% or less of the area’s median income.

    Under the city’s affordable housing ordinance, however, most development projects can choose to build, at a minimum, 15% of homes as affordable, or pay fees to the city in-lieu of including affordable homes in the project.

    Cohen defended the project’s potential.

    “I was excited by this project because of the voluntary commitment that was being made to try for the 600-plus affordable housing units on this site, which would obviously far exceed any requirement we would have,” Cohen said.

    Kamei pushed back.

    “I think that we bank on these wishes of affordability,” Kamei said. “It would be great if it’s all done, but we can’t live in a wish world.”

    She raised the prospect of approving the project only on the condition the developer build at least 15% or 20% of homes in the project as affordable. But Schoennauer said it isn’t fair, and possibly unlawful, to put such a requirement on only their project at the last minute, and the council ultimately did not follow Kamei’s recommendation.

    “If we are serious about affordable housing,” Kamei said, “then we need to really step it up.”

    Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

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