“Downtown West” Plans Take Shape in San Jose as Google Reveals Updated Plans

Google, Downtown West, San Jose, Diridon Station
Courtesy of Google

By Meghan Hall

Google is making progress on its plans for nearly 80 acres in San Jose, taking a big step forward in its years-long pursuit of development around Diridon Station. This past week, the Mountain View, Calif.-based tech giant released updated design documents and an environmental impact report, both of which provide insight into Google’s vision for the development, known as Downtown West.

“Rooted in community input over the last two years as well as the 2018 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Google and the City of San José, the Plan envisions a mixed-use, mixed-income, transit-oriented neighborhood,” explained Alexa Arena, Google’s Director of Real Estate Development, in a memo to City officials. “The plan would bring significant new open space and infrastructure that represents a commitment to place-making, housing (including affordable housing), economic development, environmental sustainability, and financially viable private development.”

Google envisions a massive mixed-use hub, with 7.3 million square feet of office, up to 5,900 residential units—6.5 times the amount designated in the Diridon Station Area Plan (DSAP)—15 acres of open and green spaces and 500,000 square feet of community, retail and cultural uses. Commitment to residential and community uses is paramount—30 out of 55 of the project’s developable acreage will be set aside specifically for housing and community-related endeavors. Of the housing that is built, 25 percent will be designated as affordable to residents of all income levels.

The documents that have been released for public review now include a number of updates based on feedback from the San Jose community and City officials collected over the past year-and-a-half. The documents state that the improved plans further optimizing housing development, with only modest increases in designated office area, and Google’s intentions to provide public benefits without relying on public subsidies. Updated design documents have also been released, giving further insight into how the project infrastructure, building massing and more. 

According to design documents, the project’s massing and form will be informed by four different zones with spaces and buildings designed to be site-specific. The core of the project will be defined by its position as an active hub with retail-lined public open spaces, the transit hub, and community-serving buildings. The Northend will cater to San Jose’s creative community. Terminating at West St. John St., buildings will focus on making, arts and culture. The Southend will be defined by neighborhood serving amenities such as childcare and will be more tranquil with connections to the regional trail system.

Buildings throughout the project will range in height from about 40 feet up to 200 feet, state project documents. Preferred materials include heavy timber, wood panels and other wood-like products, earthen materials such as clay, natural stone and brick masonry, metals, cementitious materials like concrete masonry and architectural glazing, which will provide articulation and interest to building facades.

The plans also layout schemes for The Gateway, one of the first areas of the project inspired by San Jose’s entrepreneurial spirit. A flexible plaza that can host pop-up programming and events will anchor Downtown West and provide access to adjacent neighborhoods. A 0.75-acre open space that faces the Arena Green and confluence of the Guadalupe River and Los Gatos Creek will also be part of The Gateway. The Creekside walk, which lies just south of the VTA light rail corridor will connect the development to other natural elements, while The Meander, a 1.56-acre open space was also highlighted. There, a flexible lawn will accommodate events, screenings and performances, and social seating and native plants will accent the space.

Final approval of the project has been impacted due to COVID-19; however, according to the City of San Jose’s website, a final environmental impact report (FEIR) is expected by winter of 2021. In the spring, the Planning Commission will conduct a hearing on the submitted documents, and the City Council will hold a subsequent hearing in the summer of 2021.

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