A developer’s plan to reshape a city block with a six-story condominium complex is stirring controversy in Santa Clara.
Residents are split over whether the proposed project at the corner of Monroe and Franklin streets will destroy the character of the city’s Old Quad neighborhood, or help jumpstart a vision for a renewed downtown. Some opposed to the project called it “monstrous” and “massive,” while some in favor said it’s “perfect” and “great.”
Atherton-based developer Lamb Partners is planning to erect a mixed-use building from three to six stories high, with 50 condominiums and roughly 3,800 square feet of ground floor retail or restaurant space on a 0.87-acre lot at 950 Monroe St. The project would also include four, two-story townhomes built behind three existing historic homes along the corner of Monroe and Homestead, which will be preserved.
A commercial building at 940-950 Monroe St., which houses Seniore’s Pizza and the Windemere Silicon Valley real estate agency, would be demolished to make space for the project.
Planning Commissioner Lance Saleme summed up some of the angst faced by decision-makers handling this project at a recent meeting.
“I like the idea of growth in the downtown, but I dont like six stories. Six stories is too much, it’s huge, it’s overwhelming. But this plan, I mean it’s not horrible,” Saleme said. “It’s definitely not great.”
Despite reservations from Saleme and his colleagues, they voted unanimously last week to support the project. The Santa Clara City Council will have the final say on the project at a later date.
For the project to go forward, city leaders will have to approve a series of special exceptions, including changing city planning limits to double the amount of housing density allowed in the area and a different character and scale of buildings than most of those in the Old Quad neighborhood.
Jorge Haro, a resident who lives one street behind the proposed project, said the Old Quad neighborhood has generally included buildings of about two to three stories, and he is opposed to the large building plan.
“If you’re trying to maintain the historic character of the neighborhood, then nothing should exceed that height, otherwise you’re taking that away,” Haro told San José Spotlight. “And if that’s the desire of city leaders, then so be it. We’ll lose anything that has any history.”
Haro made a large printed poster with digital images of the buildings in the area and held it up in front of planning commissioners to show them his concern about the building size. He suggested the building could be a better fit if it didn’t exceed the four-story size of a recent development across the street by now defunct SiliconSage Builders called the Downtown Gateway.
“Does this look harmonious?” he said while pointing at the poster. “Does this make sense to you?”
But other residents and the architect on the project, Sal Caruso, feel differently.
“Six stories? People will need to get over that fact if we’re ever to have a downtown,” Caruso told commissioners. He also said the building would be much better than the “nonsense next door,” referring to the SiliconSage project.
“While this project alone does not magically bring the downtown to life, its approval is essential to creating the conditions that allow the revival of a new downtown,” Fitch said. “This the perfect location for a substantial number of new residents who will bring vitality to downtown.”
Some residents hope the the city will hold off on approving the project until revised precise plans and new codes for the downtown area are considered.
Adam Thompson, chair of the Downtown Community Task Force, called the proposed building “a Frankenstein, monstrous project.”
Thompson said the project, if approved too soon, would undermine the work done by residents and city workers to prepare a plan and vision for downtown.
Planning Commissioner Nancy Biagini said it was the hardest vote she’s had to take yet.
“It is pretty massive,” she said. “If we’re ever going to have a downtown like the one I remember… we’re going to need the density and this begins that process of density.”