Saturday, September 24, 2022

UPDATE: Appeal to stop West San Jose hotel denied

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A group of West San Jose residents’ last ditch effort to stop development on a six-story hotel on Winchester Boulevard has failed.

Residents Gaz Salihue, Shehana Marikar and others on behalf of the Hamann Park neighborhood appealed the environmental review and special use permit for a 119-room hotel at 1212-1224 S. Winchester Blvd. They’ve opposed the hotel since plans were first proposed in 2019, and have raised concerns that it’s an oversized, ill-planned project with no community benefits. But on Tuesday, the San Jose City Council voted unanimously to deny their appeals.

“(Residents) did things the right way. They advocated for themselves. They were accommodating and willing to compromise,” said Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, who represents the area. “I’m in a situation where I have to make a decision based on the facts that were presented, and with the information and feedback from (city) staff.”

Both Jones and Mayor Sam Liccardo noted they voted against the appeal because the project aligns with the city’s future development plans.

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“I appreciate the many concerns raised by the community, and I don’t by any means minimize (those) concerns,” Liccardo said. “The reality is we did create a plan that anticipates substantial density along Winchester so that requires a significant amount of commercial activity.”

The city rezoned the land earlier this year, but the developer dropped plans for the hotel before it quietly came back for approval at a planning director’s hearing in March. The approval includes the demolition of two single-story commercial buildings and nine trees on the 0.69-acre parcel.

The hotel is among numerous projects in West San Jose that meet the city’s urban village strategy in its Envision San Jose 2040 General Plan. Urban villages are planned along transit corridors and as mixed-use projects with housing, commercial and office space to reduce traffic and balance the city’s jobs-to-house ratio. They are also designed to be walkable communities.

There are 60 urban villages planned in San Jose. Other large projects in West San Jose include the Stevens Creek Promenade, the Costco planned for the Westgate shopping center on Prospect Road and El Paseo de Saratoga. Like the Winchester hotel, those projects have drawn sharp criticism from neighbors who say the scale doesn’t match the surrounding single-story home neighborhoods.

Adam Askari, a San Jose dentist and developer of the Winchester hotel, said residents are just opposed to change. He said his hotel aligns with the city’s vision for urban villages that transform suburban neighborhoods to walkable, transit-oriented places.

“These plans are not for today, they are what the city envisions in 20 years,” Askari told thecupertinodigest.com. “They don’t like change. The problem is I’m the first person doing development there so I am getting all this from them. But in five years, if my building is two stories, it will look silly because the rest of the neighborhood will be much bigger.”

San Jose resident Tom Morman has concerns with hotel plans in his neighborhood. His wife Gail and neighbor Mabel Cheng also oppose the development. Photo by Jana Kadah.

Neighbors see flaws

Residents’ primary concern is the property is too big without proper accommodations. The hotel will have 60 parking spots underground, which may force guests and employees to park in the neighborhood; the hotel will tower over the single-story homes nearby; and there are not enough fire lanes or plans for a bike lane that were promised, opponents say.

Residents said they support urban village plans, but the hotel doesn’t fit what they believe is intended.

“When they were being planned, we as residents were promised pedestrian-friendly walkways, open spaces and community gathering spaces. These shallow blocks were meant to be commercial activity that supports the community,” said Marikar, who lives right next to the site. “This hotel does not serve the neighborhood.”

She said the underground parking garage is right next to her property line, and worries what construction will do to the foundation.

“We brought up concerns about damage from vibration levels which exceed city limits during construction (and) these issues have not been addressed,” Marikar said. “Just imagine next to your single-story home, a six-story building six feet from you just rising up like that.”

She and other residents also worry a hotel fire would burn through the neighborhood because there isn’t much space between the hotel and neighboring houses. Residents also have concerns of increased traffic posing a risk to children who walk to school just a few blocks away.

“The developer will say we are just against big buildings, but if you look at our issues they are all technical,” resident Jeff Williams told thecupertinodigest.com.

But the developers say these concerns are nitpicking and they have tried to compromise several times.

Asakari said he has met with the neighbors over 20 times to appease their concerns—getting rid of balconies, a swimming pool and a rooftop restaurant at their request. Askari said he even offered to build a five-story senior housing development instead, but said residents turned down that idea as well.

“The issues before you on the appeal are really quite narrow,” said Bart Heckman, a consultant for the development. “This is the kind of reaction that the city should want from its applicants who are implementing the city council’s vision as expressed in the general plan: Here, that process—community meetings, listening, reacting—resulted in a better project for the city and the neighborhood.”

But resident Tom Morman, who lives behind the project site, said little concessions were made and there were never plans for a rooftop restaurant or swimming pool. He also said neighbors would’ve loved to see senior housing there, especially because it would be right next to a nursing home. He said the problem was they were asked to sign a legal document tied to the deed of their house that they would not fight the plans—something Askari denies.

At the meeting, developers urged officials to deny the appeal because it could set a precedent that could scare away investors and developers from doing business in San Jose.

“It’s not just this project, people are watching what’s going on here,” said David Bowman, vice president at Newgen Advisory, which supports commercial development projects in California. “We need to show the outside world that if a developer comes to town, follows all the rules and makes the investment, that they are able to advance with the project and do something that is really good for the community.”

Contact Jana Kadah at jana@sanjosespotlight.com or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

The post UPDATE: Appeal to stop West San Jose hotel denied appeared first on thecupertinodigest.com.

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