SANTA CLARA — Plans to develop a large area of public land inched forward with the Santa Clara Planning Commission’s recommendation for approval of an update to the city’s existing general plan to the South Hills area following a public hearing Tuesday.
The amendment proposes development of an approximately 1,700-acre area south of the Santa Clara River and west of the Santa Clara-St. George boundary.
The majority of the area within the scope of the general plan update, approximately 1,440 acres, is currently owned by the Bureau of Land Management, while the remaining approximately 240 acres are privately owned.
Plans include space for residential zoning, as well as zones reserved for commercial development and business parks. Plans also include a 50-acre outdoor sports park in the western portion of the area near the city water tank with access to existing trails.
Residential development is clustered into low and medium density pods throughout the proposed general plan amendment area, which are divided up in order to help preserve open areas for washes, trail corridors and other recreational uses.
Environmental and traffic impacts
The BLM had already planned to dispose of the land proposed for development, which falls within Santa Clara city limits. The land will still be subject to environmental assessment in an area consisting of steep slopes and expansive soils before land transfer can take place. The assessment has yet to take place.
An Area of Critical Environmental Concern encompassing an area of 100 acres will also need to be taken into consideration and worked around.
With between approximately 1,300 to 1,900 new homes projected as a result of the proposed development, traffic is expected to be pushed to capacity as more trips are made through downtown Santa Clara; of specific concern, Santa Clara Drive.
Construction of additional bridges and some connecting roads, such as the completion of Plantation Drive connecting into Dixie Drive in the Tonaquint area, would alleviate some of the increased traffic, in addition to a western corridor planned to connect Interstate 15 at Exit 2 to Santa Clara expected to run west of the South Hills.
The amendment also proposes that Chapel Street be extended southward with a new bridge over the Santa Clara river.
Before the onset of the hearing at the packed Santa Clara Town Hall, the planning commission noted that the city’s general plan serves as a guide to growth and development and does not tackle the particulars of zoning changes, such as use of dwellings as rentals or the types of commercial uses allowed. The proposed general plan update was also described more as a refinement to previous plans for South Hills.
David Leavitt, a Santa Clara resident, who expressed his favor for the plan update, said that city officials should be mindful of the BLM’s role in controlling the land, which will remain out of city control until it is either bought by the city or private developers.
The question of water access was also brought up by Leavitt, who noted that a new homeowner near the area paid about $7,500 to the county just for water availability.
Acknowledging several citizens’ concerns about increasing traffic as a result of development of the South Hills, John Grant, chairman of the city’s heritage commission, said development is likely an inevitability that they will have to work through with future zoning ordinances.
“I think it is, unfortunately,” Grant said, “naïve and unreasonable to assume that Santa Clara is always going to be charming little Santa Clara. … I appreciate its historic value, but again, we cannot prevent property owners from developing their land.”
Beyond providing new living spaces for future residents, some of the developers’ preliminary plans could bring employment opportunities to the community, Rex Oliver, chairman of the Santa Clara Economic Development Commission, said.
“We feel like whatever we do as a developer on the land will be better because of it,” Patrick Manning a representative of developers with interest in the area, said, adding that he recommends approval on behalf of developers of the general plan update.
Several city residents said they were concerned about the proposed extension of Chapel Street and how it would affect existing property owners in the area. Others also expressed their displeasure with the possibility of rentals or vacation homes being built in the area.
Such concerns, however, did not fall within the scope of the hearing, and planning commission member Jason Lindsey recommended those concerns be relayed in future meetings when zoning ordinances in the area come up for public review.
Following the public hearing, the planning commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the general plan update to the Santa Clara City Council.
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