Santa Clara approves first-of-its-kind housing with urban farm
Photo courtesy of City of Santa Clara and Core Companies.

A farmer’s market in your backyard? The newest trend in urban agriculture is a big hit across the United States that has both millennials and seniors agreeing: Sign me up.

The “Agrihood” development plan, a farm-friendly housing project focused on building residential communities around urban farmland, was unanimously approved by the Santa Clara City Council on Tuesday night.

The first-of-its-kind project in the Bay Area promotes a sustainable approach to urban and affordable housing, combining locally sourced organic produce with a healthy lifestyle in a diverse, multi-generational community. This new trend of integrated housing and farming encourages a self-sustaining food system within a cooperative neighborhood, popular among millennials who value the farm-to-table approach to healthy eating as well as senior citizens who predominantly live off of a fixed income.

“Agrihood” projects are a new and popular approach to housing developments across the state, requiring high environmental standards and copious outdoor space. Such existing communities include Davis’ The Cannery and The Ranch at Rancho Mission Viejo.

The proposed “agrihood” in Santa Clara will be located across from Westfield Valley Fair near the San Jose border, and includes a total of 5.8 acres with 160 mixed-income apartments,165 affordable senior apartments, 36 townhomes and 1.5 acres of agricultural space.

Residential vs. retail

Advocates in favor of the plan said that the project will target the county’s urgent housing crisis through innovative and environmentally-friendly solutions. Delaying the project , they said, would neglect the current need to address this problem.

“Housing Trust strongly supports the proposed neighborhood mixed-used, mixed income development,” said Craig Mizushima, chief impact officer of the Housing Trust of Silicon Valley. “The integration of the urban agricultural open space will serve as a gathering space for the community, encouraging intergenerational interaction between the residents and the greater community.”

Still, others expressed skepticism, voicing concern that the plan needs additional retail density to attract more businesses and draw foot traffic into the community, asking for 20,000 square feet of commercial space. The state is funding the project exclusively for housing, which does not include business development. To take advantage of public amenities, however, critics argue that more retail spaces are needed to ensure the project’s success.

Kirk Vartan, a local business owner attested that “a single business at the Agrihood would be set up for failure. If you don’t allow enough retail to be successful, some family investments could be in financial disaster.”

“Please don’t let that happen,” he urged. “Diversity of business attracts a variety of people. We need active spaces.”

Similarly, Alex Shoor, co-founder of Catalyze SV, strongly supported the project’s intentions to create a more equitable and more vibrant neighborhood. However, Shoor said he also believes “in the opportunity for the City Council and the community to shape projects and make them better along the way.”

“The idea that you either support a project and have to get it built at this moment without any conditions or you can’t approve it at all is a false choice that you are being offered,” Shoor said. “And there is no more important asset for a city, besides its people, than its land.”

The project, ridden with a complicated set of negotiations, was ultimately approved for 5,000 square feet of commercial space.

“I know how difficult it is to make urban agriculture work,” said Councilmember Teresa O’Neill. “If we can’t make these things happen here, then where is it going to happen? I think we continually have to ask a lot of ourselves, because the community deserves it.”

“This project means something to many, many people,” said Mayor Lisa Gillmor. “I hope that it’s so successful and I want to celebrate this project. At the end of the day, we are the center of what’s possible here and we can get it done.”

The innovative $220 million project could break ground next year.

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadiia_77@yahoo.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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