By Jacob Bourne
The Town Council Chamber in Los Gatos was packed during Council meetings on August 9, 11 and 16 to discuss the phase one project portion of the proposed North 40 development. The North 40 Specific Plan adopted in 2015 targets a 44-acre area bounded by Highway 85, Lark Avenue, Highway 17 and Los Gatos Boulevard for a large mixed-use development. The phase one portion of the development occupies the southern half of the area and is where the majority of the residential component is to be located.[contextly_sidebar id=”NO6q5r6AMMyoYMyxoHUCO0NCqFAB8cTZ”]A variety of uses currently exist on the site including a large walnut orchard, two commercial structures, four single-family homes and 12 residential units. The phase one site is a total of 901,193 square feet that’s up for redevelopment as a multi-dimensional residential community connected to commercial and open space.
The North 40 Specific Plan allows for up to 364 housing units of which about 320 would be incorporated into phase one. If approved, 50 of those units would be small, affordable senior living residences situated above a market hall retail space. The remainder of the units would be 190 row homes and 77 condos along the western end of the property geared towards young professionals and couples.
Of the 580,000 square feet of commercial spaces envisioned for the North 40, 57,522 square feet of leasable space would be an aspect of phase one including a 16,000 square foot market hall, restaurants and retail. An additional 358,035 square feet of open space could be featured by the development.
The vision for the North 40 as outlined by the specific plan aims for a community that reflects the history, agricultural heritage, and small town feel of Los Gatos. Developers are tasked with reflecting the character of Los Gatos in the project, enhancing views of the hillsides and minimizing impacts to the community. Though the North 40 Specific Plan wasn’t adopted until 2015, the developers have been working concurrently on the plans since 2010, resulting in questions and contention as to whether current plan iterations fully meet planning requirements.
Co-developers Grosvenor, Eden Housing and SummerHill Homes partnered with BAR Architects, Dahlin Group, Mackay & Somps, SWA Group, Interface Engineering Inc., and Van Dorn Abed Landscape Architects Inc. to execute the project.
“We didn’t want to create a gated community, we didn’t want to create an exclusive community,” said Don Capobres, Grosvenor representative. “We wanted to tie into the existing fabric of the surrounding neighborhood. We started inside first and started with an unprecedented—over 85-percent—of open space in this new neighborhood will be accessible to the public. That’s actually something the specific plan didn’t require, but we chose to do to make it accessible. The North 40 isn’t very accessible to the public today, if at all.”
Though project team representatives asserted that the plans show a project that’s smaller in scope than permits require and offers more benefits than mandated, many community members have voiced strong opposition to the project because of concerns that it doesn’t reflect the look and feel of Los Gatos, will exacerbate traffic congestion, and put strain on schools. Some local business owners are also concerned that the commercial aspect of the project will result in unfair competition for their customers.
On August 16, Town Council discussion become emotional as topics ranged from the needs of low income seniors to have more access to affordable housing to potential for lawsuits issued from either community members or developers, depending on the Council’s decision.
After a lengthy back and forth of Council motions and further deliberations, the decision was made to defer action and seek legal counsel regarding state housing requirements and whether or not an error exists in the specific plan as well as the possible need for recommendations regarding litigation scenarios. Staff are expected to respond to questions from Council on September 1.
“In this application there’s been a lot of pressure and even bullying to just deny the application without even really looking at it carefully and doing a thorough analysis of the pros and cons in this case, and also gaining a thorough understanding of the legal issue,” said council member Rob Rennie.
At a July hearing, the Planning Commission had voted to not recommend the project application to Council for several reasons including that it was deemed a mismatch with the character of Los Gatos.