Editorial on Appropriate Development
From the Willow Glen Times
On Sept. 10, the San Jose Planning Commission is scheduled to hear a zoning application for two 11-story towers by the Tamien Station on Alma Street just east of Route 87. The City Council is tentatively scheduled to vote on the matter on Sept. 30. These critical votes will set a precedent for years to come as to the type of development that is suitable for residential areas.
Although higher density housing is needed in the Tamien area because of its location near transit stations, for me the question is how much density can the area handle before creating a severe negative impact. I'm also concerned about whether the proposed project, named Tamien Place, is appropriate for the neighborhood, and what the traffic impact will be due to the lack of retail in the surrounding area.
First, some background. In 1995, the San Jose City Council created a Specific Plan that established the location, intensity, and character of land uses for the Tamien Area. Some of the larger parcels have familiar-sounding names, like Alma Bowl, the Elk's Lodge, and Italian Gardens. Community members were involved in the process with many hearings held.
The environmental impact study recommended a maximum number of 1,250 housing units for the Tamien area. This is quite dense, given the relatively low density in the Washington neighborhood and throughout most of San Jose. Community members accepted the plan because they understood the need for higher densities near transit corridors. The plan also identified the community's wish to receive more public amenities, like parks.
Since 1995, close to 600 units have already been approved for construction. When this number is added to the housing units either in application or anticipated at future housing sites, the total is over 1600 units. This number is far more than anticipated by the Specific Plan. I agree that the Alma Bowl site needs to be dense, but I question whether the height is imperative to meet our housing goals.
The Tamien Place project will harm the working class neighborhood that is just now beginning to improve. The surrounding area will gain nothing by having two glass and steel high-rises dropped right in the middle of it. The Washington and Goodyear-Mastic neighborhoods need housing that will enhance the area, not overshadow it. As currently designed, with one vehicular entrance, the project presents itself more as a private enclave than as part of the existing neighborhood.
New parks for the Tamien area are a dream still many years from completion. As proposed, there is not enough money raised from parkland dedication fees to pay for a park. Moreover, fees raised from recent developments at Italian Gardens have gone for parks miles away and are no longer available for the Tamien Area. Even with the proposed density by the Tamien Place project, neighbors would receive few amenities.
There is little retail available in the area. Although Willow Street has some shops, for the most part there are few stores around. The absence of retail and services mean an increase in the number of trips that new residents will have to make. As only a small percentage of new residents will use mass transit to get to work and virtually none will use it for shopping, surrounding streets will become even more congested.
I believe that high-rise condominiums belong downtown. I find it ironic that the City is pushing high-rises outside of downtown at a time when only one high-rise residential development has been approved but none built. The City has spent millions on downtown redevelopment, infrastructure, and transportation. High-rises should be promoted downtown first.
Many neighbors and I support the concept of a "transit village" for the area. We believe the project should be mixed-use, pedestrian friendly, fit into the neighborhood, and be oriented toward transit. Neighbors have already agreed to support the necessary heights and density this would require as envisioned in the 1995 Tamien Area Specific plan, which is a maximum of 65 feet and 55 dwelling units per acre.
I encourage all San Joseans to become informed about this issue. The impact of the twin 11-story towers could have a long-term negative effect on our community. Feel free to call my office at 277-5166 to confirm the date for the City Council council meeting in case it should change. The Planning Commission meeting on the Wed, Sept. 10, is set.