The City Council hearing on The Reserve project proposal is quickly approaching on February 23rd. I’d like to share my view of the project and address many of the questions raised by the Opal Drive neighborhood and community.
Over the past year, I have been carefully evaluating the site plans, and listening to the Opal Drive neighbors. Rest assured that I am keenly aware of the impact of The Reserve decision on the neighbors closest to the development. I’ve also taken time to gain a better understanding of our city’s General Plan, and the transportation issues associated with the Winchester corridor.
After listening carefully to residents, as well as the developer, I have determined that I will be supporting The Reserve project when it comes before the City Council. This is based on the significant changes that the developer agreed to, both back in October 2015, and also the additional changes that the developer has agreed to just in the past couple of weeks that I will detail below.
The Reserve project represents a significant change to the neighborhood and community due to a fast growing city. San Jose anticipates nearly 400,000 additional people by 2040. The high housing demand, an anticipated population growth, and existing traffic congestion require increasing housing density to prevent additional sprawl. Higher density will centralize people, jobs, and services in an effort to reduce how far people travel. We anticipate The Reserve will be the first of many developments that fit into the future vision for San Jose. District 1 will bear a share of the growth or density, as will other San Jose districts. Keeping neighborhoods such as Opal Drive in mind, we are working to encourage growth on corridors near highways, or transit that is outside or on the periphery of your neighborhoods.
Process – Background
The process for this proposal began in October 2014 with a community meeting held near the proposed site in District 1. The project went through an environmental review that concluded late last year. The project was heard and approved at the Planning Commission on December 2, 2015. Over the course of this time, the applicant met with many surrounding neighborhood groups and attended community meetings to conduct outreach about the proposal. The developer also conducted two height demonstrations with large balloons to help provide a physical visual sense of the proposed maximum heights at the front and rear of the building.
In October 2015, the developer made a number of changes to the project in response to the community feedback received over the past year. The proposal changes made were:
- Parking: Added an additional 40 parking spaces (920 to 960 spaces)
in response to concerns about increased parking in adjacent neighborhoods. Also moved existing ground-level parking adjacent to single family homes underground.
- Privacy: Realigned units so that none of the balconies would face the backyards of residents along Opal Drive. All windows that face the rear single family homes will also be small and narrow to further provide for privacy.
- Privacy: Added an additional row of evergreen trees to provide additional screening between the complex and the residents on Opal Drive. There will be a total of 3 rows of trees – two at the property line plus one closer to the building.
- Intrusion: Removed one parking entrance on the side facing Opal Drive and reoriented the remaining one to minimize the impact of the headlights of those cars leaving the garage.
- Design: Increased the size of the public plaza and reduced the size of the driveway to make it more pedestrian friendly.
- Design: Added additional architectural designs to help reduce the sense of mass of the building by adding setbacks of 5 feet for certain floors.
I believe that the changes made were a marked improvement over the original proposal and demonstrated that the developer listened, heard and addressed many of the neighborhood concerns.
Building Height – Fit within Neighborhood
I heard from neighbors who were still very concerned with the height of the building both in the front, but also particularly in the rear of the building where it is adjacent to single family homes. As it stood, the building would be just under 50 feet and 4 stories in the rear of the building. However, the developer has agreed, at my request, to lower the rear portion to 3 stories. This will then transition up to 4 stories, and then to 5 stories as originally planned. The portion of the building immediately adjacent to the single family homes will be 3 stories with a setback of 60 feet. The 4-story element would be behind the 3 story portion and setback at approximately 72 feet. I believe that this is a good compromise and helps to provide a better interface between the building the single-family homes.
The developer has also agreed to ensure that the color palate of the rear of the building blends in appropriately with the natural colors of the trees so there is less of a contrast between the trees and the building.
The proposal has a maximum of 85 feet (that equates to 6 stories) at small portions of the building facing the street. The majority of the building is 5 stories in height. The maximum height proposed is characteristic with current plans or completed developments in similar urban villages in the city. The proposed height is also less than is proposed in urban villages near transit or in the downtown core. While this is the first taller building going in on Winchester, the height is aligned with future buildings to be added along major thoroughfares, like Winchester Boulevard, throughout the city.
Transportation & Traffic Impacts – Developer Contributions
I know this is a major area of concern for the neighborhood, and it is one that I share deeply. It is important that projects in this corridor help mitigate any impacts they create, namely traffic. It is for this reason that the city is working towards developing a Transportation Development Policy. With a Transportation Development policy in place, the city can charge a traffic impact fee to new developments in this area that will offset a portion of the cost to upgrade the Winchester off-ramp for northbound I-280. We anticipate that the necessary work for this traffic impact fee will be completed by September 2016. Once implemented, all developments in the area would be required to pay a traffic impact fee.
The Reserve is not required to pay a traffic impact fee ahead of a Transportation Development Policy. However, the developer has offered to make a voluntary contribution of $3,500 per unit that equates to $2.24 million in anticipation of what the traffic impact fee would be. We believe this to be a fair contribution based on other traffic impact fees in other areas of the city. The $2.24 million is in addition to over $20 million the developer will pay in city fees and other traffic mitigation.
Protected Intersection fees
The project will impact two protected intersections at Winchester & Stevens Creek and Stevens Creek & Monroe. The developer is required to contribute money for each additional trip that the project will add to those intersections. This contribution amounts to over $1.8 million and will be spent on transportation improvements around the area of the project. Those improvements have yet to be determined, and the city will be looking for additional public input on what specific improvements they would like to see.
Winchester & Williams Intersection
The developer will be required to pay for improvements to the intersection at Winchester & Williams that is immediately adjacent to the project. This contribution is estimated at $475,000. This includes adding a second left-hand turn lane from Williams onto Winchester, and also additional modifications to help improve safety and circulation.
San Tomas Expressway / Moorpark
The developer is required to contribute a fair share towards the planned added lane to San Tomas Expressway. This contribution is estimated at approximately $698,182.
I know that there is also significant concern and interest in the impact of any added trips through nearby residential streets that this project may add. You have my commitment that I will remain engaged on this issue. We can continue to monitor any changes and determine if any traffic calming becomes warranted on nearby residential streets.
There is concern from neighbors regarding the amount of parking provided at the site, and concerns over the potential of parking overflow going into Opal Drive and other surrounding neighborhoods. The developer has exceeded the number of parking spaces required under our zoning ordinance, and after hearing the neighbor’s concerns, increased the number of parking spaces they will supply.
District 1 is beginning a pilot program for residential parking permits. The developer has volunteered an additional monetary contribution to help establish this residential permit parking program adjacent to the development. The program would not include the The Reserve site – meaning future residents of The Reserve would not have residential parking permits.
This project will provide much needed parkland money that can be spent to improve local parks or acquire new parkland. I have made new parkland acquisition in this area a priority. This project will contribute approximately $6 million in park fees.
Displacement of Current Residents
There has also been concern in the community regarding the existing residents at The Reserve apartment complex, and what will happen to them if this project is approved. Greystar will honor all leases at the complex, and there will likely be considerable time until any construction work actually begins. Greystar has also committed to working with those existing tenants to find them space in one of their other apartment complexes throughout the region, including in District 1. Being a large operator in the region, they have a large supply to try to match the needs of those displaced. They have agreed to detail this commitment in a letter to the Council.
While I understand the concerns expressed by the community for this project, it is important that we also consider the current and future needs of our city. We must work closely with our residents, neighbors, and existing homeowners to ensure the public opinion is heard. We must also continue to increase our housing supply to meet our growing population.