As we continue to shelter-in-place and enter into phase 2 of reopening, it is important to continue thinking about the future of our towns and cities.
The city of San Jose has huge plans on the books: Diridon Integrated Station Concept Plan, Diridon Station Area Plan Update, Google Downtown West, Jay Paul CityView redevelopment plan, Urban Catalyst Opportunity Zone projects and more. They will reshape large sections of our city. They bring badly needed redevelopment and financial stability for San Jose as we begin the inevitable process of building up and not out.
As part of the expansion of residential units in San Jose, there is a process for funding the development of parks near the new developments. This is funded by a collection of fees from housing developers.
According to city policies, the Park Impact Ordinance and the Parkland Dedication Ordinance help meet the need for providing or improving recreational facilities, such as parks, trails, community centers, by requiring new residential projects to:
- Provide at least three acres of parkland for each 1,000 new residents added by the housing development;
- Make a payment of a park impact in-lieu fee equal to the value of the required land dedication;
- Complete improvements to existing recreational facilities or construct new facilities;
- By providing a negotiated agreement for a combination of these options.
Let’s drill down on this and take a look at the potential 12,000 to 15,000 residential units that have been discussed for the Diridon Station Area. A presentation from the city in March said that would equate to a new population of roughly 20,610 new residents. On page four of the presentation it states that the parkland goal would equal 62 acres or equivalent recreation amenities. The city staff recommended pivoting to a focus on community centers and have stopped looking at:
- Daylighting Los Gatos Creek at the intersection of Bird and Montgomery
- Large multi-acre suburban parks
- “Green fingers” as parkland as shown in their 2014 plan.
As we’ve been walking in our neighborhoods and appreciating the existing parks and open space, while we socially distance, it is sad to think that we are going to build a dense urban area with towering residential and office buildings and not give the occupants green space to enjoy.
This flies in the face of best practices when it comes to urban design. SV@Home met with various groups to outline the benefits of higher buildings. Their presentation discussed that by developing taller buildings it allows for open space adjacent to the new buildings. On a side note, they also predicted the need for 10 acres reserved for stand-alone parking development.
If you take it one step further, part of the rationale for raising the development height limits within the FAA height standards was the value capture of the increased heights and the benefits to the surrounding community. City officials admitted they wanted to have their cake and eat it, too.
In my opinion, that “cake” would have to include large amounts of park space. What do we tell current and future residents who have repeatedly asked for more park space with grass? This is not replaceable by a sea of hardscape and monotonous towering buildings in the Diridon Area. We can’t abandon the ideals of the past and forget what makes a community whole. It’s the complete urban fabric, from properly functioning streets, public parks, walkable sidewalks and buildings with activated and friendly ground floors.
We all agree that San Jose has to grow up and not out, but that can still occur without forsaking the development of new parks. Let’s not pivot from what we know works and we should all advocate for a plan with parks measured in the tens of acres developed and not in the millions of dollars of fees collected to be spent somewhere else — or worse yet sitting in a city of San Jose bank account accruing minimal interest.
I have faith that we can come together and create a plan that accomplishes this.
Onward and upward.
San José Spotlight columnist Bob Staedler is a principal at Silicon Valley Synergy, a San Jose-based land use and development consulting firm. His columns appear every first Monday of the month. Contact Bob at email@example.com or follow @BobStaedler on Twitter.