San Jose’s El Paseo de Saratoga explores massive redesign

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Plans for a major retail center redevelopment in West San Jose are on track for final approval.

At a Wednesday San Jose Planning Commission meeting, members approved the 10.76 acre mixed-use development known as El Paseo de Saratoga in a 9-1-1 vote. The project will demolish existing commercial buildings to pave the way for four high-rise towers east of the intersection of Saratoga Avenue and Quito Road, and north of the intersection of Saratoga Avenue and Lawrence Expressway. Commissioner Jorge Garcia voted against the project and Commissioner Charles Cantrell was absent.

If approved by the the City Council, the towers will increase retail space in the shopping center by more than 40,000 square feet and add up to 994 residences —150 of which are affordable. It also brings in retailers like Whole Foods and adds 3.5 acres of open space. Most of that open space is designed for things like outdoor dining or paseos, but will also include a 1.1 acre public park.

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“(It’s going to be) the new community gathering place for District 1 on the west side,” said Allison Koo, who represents the developer, Sand Hill Property Company.

The redevelopment is one of many projects in West San Jose that increases density and moves away from a traditional suburban design—drawing critics and fans. Other large and controversial projects include the Winchester Hotel as part of the Winchester Urban Village Plan and the Costco planned for the Westgate Shopping Center on Prospect Road—a block away from El Paseo de Saratoga.

“Building 1,000 dwelling units creates affordability elsewhere because the more supply of housing we have, the less expensive housing becomes throughout the city,” said Commissioner Michael Young. “Even though there’s only 150 affordable units, projects like this are the solution to our challenge.”

Groups including Catalyze SV, South Bay YIMBY and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group support the redevelopment plans, but some said it could be improved with more bicycle parking spots, electric vehicle charging stations and even more housing.

“This is truly a vibrant mixed-use town center and community gathering spaces where employees, residents, guests, a lot of people can comfortably and safely enjoy and walk within the project,” said Sarah Cardona, deputy director at environmental nonprofit Greenbelt Alliance. “We believe this would play a pivotal role in reimagining a more resilient and inclusive San Jose for all residents to enjoy.”

Map of proposed development at El Paseo de Saratoga. The orange represents the four new towers. Image courtesy of San Jose.

However, people living close to the development shared concerns about density and the subsequent impact on traffic.

Some residents asked for more parking and a reduction in the height of the towers to eight stories instead of the 11 to 12, as the towers will be next to one and two-story homes.

“This kind of development is more appropriate for downtown or transit rich-areas,” said Bob Levy, a District 1 resident and former planning commissioner. “This project is an auto-oriented development with (not enough) transit options. (It) is inappropriate.”

The original proposal included space for a private school to serve the roughly 2,000-plus residents moving into the development. The school plans were axed because of resident concerns, but neighbors said that change alone isn’t enough.

“While the developers did meet with us many times, we did not see our actual concerns addressed,” said Luann Abrahams, treasurer of the Moreland West Neighborhood Association. “We are left with a forest of towers ranging up to 11 and 12 stories high, which is completely out of scale.”

But commissioners said the proposal fits the city’s long-term vision to create more urban villages to solve its housing crisis and spur economic activity.  They also added Santana Row was at one point a controversial development, but is now a central part of District 1.

“(El Paseo de Saratoga) is a project that doesn’t show up overnight,” Commissioner Pierluigi Oliverio said. “In my experience, this could take upward of a decade. These projects are big. They take a long time to do.”

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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