Santa Clara delays affordable housing project

City Councilman Jamie Matthews voiced concern about certain aspects of Presidio El Camino.

Santa Clara officials have slowed plans for a 40-unit apartment development on El Camino Real, citing concerns over the proposed design that one City Council member termed “horrific.”

“It’s not as beautiful as the Taco Bell down the street, and this will be the flagship development because we’re putting eight million dollars worth of (redevelopment) agency and city money into it,” Councilman Jamie Matthews said.

At a meeting last week, the council voted unanimously to delay approving the project known as Presidio El Camino. The developer must first win over  the city’s Architectural Review Committee before another council vote. Council members also questioned whether enough parking spaces were envisioned.

The Core Companies, the developer, said it intends to change the design to better fit with Santa Clara’s historic, Mission-style architecture. The council objected to a modern style, much preferring a classically California look.

“Every time a development goes up, you want it to enhance the appearance of your community,” said Councilwoman Jamie McLeod.

Matthews emphasized that every aspect of the development will be examined closely, as the council considers it a pace-setter for future residential projects along a heavily commercial stretch of El Camino Real. The proposed site, between Jefferson and Madison streets, now is home to a used-car dealership. If approved by the city, the new development would feature 40 studio and one-bedroom apartments and 3,025 square feet of retail space.

Proposed rents have not been announced, but the project is considered an effort to meet Santa Clara’s need for affordable housing. According to a 2008 survey, nearly 95 percent of city residents pay more than $750 in monthly rent.

The Core Companies is a development group specializing in affordable housing; it has worked successfully with the city of Santa Clara on similar projects in the past. Core’s affordable housing director, Dixie Baus, said this project signals a major push to bring a neighborhood feel to the El Camino Real corridor.

“How do we create a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly corridor to attract business, to attract people, to have that 24-hour presence?’”  Baus said. “Right now the presence on El Camino in the city of Santa Clara is predominantly, Monday through Friday, eight-to-five, business.”

The Core Companies, the developer, said it intends to change Presidio El Camino's design.

The Presidio plan calls for 51 parking spaces for both the 40 apartments and the retail shops, which prompted some council members to say additional  spaces are needed.  Not everyone agreed.

“Typically, you can find effective shared parking use on mixed-use sites,” Councilwoman McLeod said, adding that only a portion of lower-income residents tend to be motorists.

Despite the delay, McLeod predicted that the revised plans would be approved. The Presidio project, she said, would help fill the city’s “tremendous need for affordable housing.”

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