By David Goll
More than a decade after adopting their most recent game plan for downtown development, San Jose officials are taking a fresh look at the best ways to channel growth of the city’s increasingly robust central core.
City officials are updating their Downtown Strategy 2000 plan, adopted in June 2005, and conducting an Environmental Impact Report to be consistent with the Envision San Jose 2040 General Plan.[contextly_sidebar id=”ezhg8rdLabpgR0Fn5kO4xxY6JCBhTJXn”]They envision more people living downtown over the next quarter century. The target for residential growth will be increased by 4,000 units, from 10,360 in the earlier plan to 14,360 in the update. Larger residential populations can trigger growth in retail, hotel rooms and office space as employers seek to locate space closer to potential employees.
It’s anticipated growth in other sectors will remain the same in the 2040 update, with targets of 11.2 million more square feet of office space, 1.4 million square feet of retail and 3,600 hotel rooms.
Steve McHarris, San Jose’s top planning official, said it was time to update strategy to guide development in the commercial business district of the Bay Area’s largest city because it is “bumping up against the Phase 1 development caps, particularly for residential.” Conducting an EIR under California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) guidelines as part of the updated downtown strategy will give environmental clearance to some of the new development, he added.
“The existing conditions have changed substantially since 2005, particularly with regard to infrastructure improvements and phasing,” McHarris said, referring especially to BART eventually being extended 5.1 miles into the downtown area from the Berryessa station in North San Jose, scheduled to open in 2018. Further down the line, the California High Speed Rail Authority is planning to dramatically expand Diridon Station on the downtown’s western edge to accommodate its trains.
“The city wants to take a fresh look at the infrastructure, primarily transportation systems, needed to support increased downtown development in the near term (up to 2025) and its estimated cost and funding,” he said.
And with an eye toward making use of a future new downtown BART station — along with the expanded Diridon Station potentially serving BART, high-speed rail, Caltrain and Altamont Commuter Express — McHarris said the updated downtown plan will seek to establish “employment priority” zones around the BART stations. Regional planners in the Bay Area have long encouraged transit-oriented commercial and residential development around public transit hubs.
The downtown strategy update is vital for the district’s future, said Scott Knies, executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association, a nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1986.
“It’s overdue and critical for downtown’s success,” Knies said. “Otherwise, you have to do project-by-project clearance. Having a master EIR for downtown is a real advantage, a way to move quickly on the approval of complicated projects.”
He added there is still plenty of capacity for office, retail and hotel development downtown — segments that have fallen short of the targets set in the strategic document adopted 10 years ago.
“But development capacity for residential is insufficient today, based on our market knowledge,” Knies said of the housing targets set in 2005.
Knies said besides supporting an increase in downtown’s residential population, he also backs expanding the boundaries of the downtown area. He said city planners should incorporate three additional blocks to the east — from Fourth to Seventh streets — between San Fernando and St. John streets, as well as north to the San Jose Market Center on Coleman Avenue, just west of Highway 87 and several blocks north of SAP Center at San Jose, home of the San Jose Sharks.
McHarris favors the proposal by The Sobrato Organization, a Cupertino-based developer, to build a 23-story, 399-unit apartment tower at 150 S. Second St. He said such development helps the city meet its updated downtown strategy goal of providing thousands more housing units downtown.
“This type of project fits well with city plans by replacing the surface parking lot with an attractive, high-quality high-rise,” he said. “Our early input will include discussing ways to enhance the Paseo de San Antonio and Central Place pedestrian paths (through downtown) in ways that help activate these areas and complement the surrounding business and entertainment venues.”
McHarris said he anticipates a draft EIR for the plan to be completed by spring with public hearings on the Downtown Strategy 2040 guidelines likely to occur in fall 2016.