Santa Clara extends agreement for student and workforce housing project
Located at 500 Benton, Santa Clara Station is a seven-story, 545-bed building proposed for 2.43 acres of publicly owned land near the city's Caltrain station. Photo courtesy of developer Republic Metropolitan.

The Santa Clara City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a third extension for an exclusive negotiation agreement through next year with Santa Clara Station, the controversial proposed student and workforce mixed-use housing development near the city’s Caltrain hub.

Located at 500 Benton Street – across from Santa Clara University and Santa Clara Police Department – the proposed seven-story, 170-unit building would sit on 2.59 acres of land owned by the city and Valley Transportation Authority.

The VTA board will consider extending the agreement – first enacted in Feb. 2018 between the San Francisco-based developer Republic Metropolitan, VTA and the city – in September at the earliest.

If approved by the VTA, developers will have until Aug. 5, 2021 to finalize the remaining project analysis, outreach and planning. Developer Kelly Macy said her firm wants to agree on terms by early Fall.

Each of the building’s 545 private beds – across the 170 4- and 2-bedroom co-living spaces – will be rented separately, and 29% will be deemed affordable; rents are projected at around $1,800 a month.

“That provides somebody who’s making an entry level salary at $70,000 to be able to afford to live there and have their own private space,” Macy said “We are very committed to this project … and the project has only improved by our relationships and understanding of Santa Clara from these residents.”

Santa Clarans, however, are split on the proposal.

Some residents support creating additional housing and focusing on an underutilized area in the city, but others voiced concerns such as environmental impacts from the development which is meant to target students and lower-income workers.

Located at 500 Benton, Santa Clara Station is a proposed seven-story, 170-unit building that sits on 2.59 acres of land owned by both the city of Santa Clara and Valley Transportation Authority. Photo courtesy of Republic Metropolitan.

Resident Robert Fitch supported extending the agreement, saying more time would help address the need for more housing in the project.

Caltrain commuter Donna West worried the proposed 95 parking spots aren’t enough for commuters, especially as the current 240 spots filled up prior to COVID-19, and nearby parking could be taken by other construction projects.

Patricia Leung, who sits on the Caltrain Citizen Advisory Committee and Historical Landmarks Commission, raised concerns about the project’s size and historical significance of the land. She also questioned the city’s designation as the “Mission City,” if the project is approved without consideration and exploration of Native history on that land.

The grievances expressed Tuesday aren’t new.

Most issues have been brought up by residents and councilmembers in the previous meetings, but some details city officials hoped would materialize by August haven’t come together, including the relocation of a well on the property – which supplies water to most of the city’s District 5.

Macy said the developers submitted a California Environmental Quality Act report in February and outlined options for the 25-year-old well – including paying an estimated $3.4 million to rebuild a new well – but have not received a response from the city.

Mayor Lisa Gillmor said those details should be hashed out later when development plans begin to finalize.

“It’s a very busy parcel, with all kinds of things going on it,” Gillmor said. “But do you want to advance this project or not? That’s what’s before us.”

Gillmor said the idea for this project sparked from the need for more housing for university students away from residential neighborhoods.

“I know a lot of people talked about the specifics of the project – there’s going to be plenty of time for everyone to weigh in on this project going forward,” Gillmor said.

But Planning Commission chair and City Council candidate Anthony Becker said piecemeal projects aren’t the way to build a major transit center and renovated city.

“There are so many moving pieces in this area that we should come up with a really strategic plan to work around,” Becker said, pointing to examples like the recently-opened Milpitas and Berryessa BART transit centers. “We should approve the project, it looks great, but there are a lot of issues.”

Councilmember Teresa O’Neill, who cast the lone no vote in 2018 to grant the initial exclusive negotiating agreement, suggested that Republic Metropolitan meet with groups like Catalyze SV or [email protected] to boost community engagement.

Councilmember Debi Davis – who pointedly said she wasn’t initially going to approve the extended exclusive negotiating agreement – suggested that the developer listen to every word residents have to say.

“Good luck, and I hope the community is going to keep their voice out there as strong as they can,” Davis said. “If we don’t push back, then nothing gets done and this project is not what I’m comfortable with. But if the community gets what they want and the developer is willing to compromise, then I’m fine with this.”

Contact Katie Lauer at [email protected] or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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