San Jose: Anticipating Google campus, City Council approves taller buildings

Despite intense opposition from members of the airport
commission and critics who worry the city is kowtowing to Google,
the San Jose City Council voted unanimously late Tuesday evening to
allow taller buildings downtown and near Diridon Station to the
west.

The move lays the groundwork for a huge shift in San Jose’s
skyline and will allow companies — particularly Google, which is
planning to build a large campus west of Highway 87 in the coming
years — access to real estate in the sky that has previously been
off limits.

Taller buildings are “essential to creating a more vibrant and
urban downtown,” said Matt Mahood, the president of the Silicon
Valley Organization, a business advocacy group.

Under the new height limits, officially known as Scenario 4,
buildings downtown could rise between 5 and 35 feet, or a modest
couple of stories. But near the SAP Center, which is 110 feet tall,
heights could more than double, going up 70 to 150 feet. That, the
city says, could add about 9.5 million more square feet of
commercial and residential development. It will likely be years
before residents see the taller structures, but the vote signals
the coming of a major change in the density of the city’s
core.

“I think this is about what kind of city do we want to
create,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “This is about our vision for
the future of the city.”

The city’s airport executives and top economic development
officials say allowing taller buildings will bring new jobs, retail
and housing to San Jose and inject new life into a long-overlooked
industrial area south of the airport.

Scott Knies, the head of the San Jose Downtown Association, said
the council had opened the doors for “generational change” and
“corrected” stifling policy. Downtown where construction costs
and the price of land are sky high, Knies continued, a couple of
stories could mean the difference between a developer deciding to
move forward with a project and calling it off.

And, Knies said, allowing Google and other developers to put
office space and housing up in the air clears the way for parks and
public art and other amenities residents can enjoy on the
ground.

David Bini, the executive director of the local Building and
Construction Trades Council, agreed.

“More construction means more construction jobs,” Bini
said.

But pilots on the airport commission say it could make flying
less safe and relegate San Jose International Airport (SJC) to a
middling airport.

“Our conclusion, which the majority of the Airport Commission
agreed with when we reconvened on 1/24/19, is that if the council
adopts Scenario 4, it will render SJC as a regional airport,
putting flights to Asia, European and some transcontinental flights
in financial jeopardy,” wrote Ken Pyle, one of the
commissioners.

Liccardo and several council members — including Vice Mayor
Chappie Jones, Councilman Raul Peralez and Councilwoman Magdalena
Carrasco — have hit back at those allegations.

“We want to emphasize that these recommendations do not in any
way pertain to safety,” they wrote in a memo ahead of the
vote.

Some commissioners, including Cathy Hendrix, have questioned how
much influence Google has had when it comes to pushing the city
toward taller buildings and expressed anger that a steering
committee put together to consider the issue included Mahood, Bini
and Knies but not an active commercial airline pilot. The tech
giant has snapped up some 50 acres near Diridon Station and will
benefit significantly by being able to build not only out, but
up.

A contract obtained by Hendrix shows the company, whose project
is referred to by the code name Project Spartan, and its consultant
were in regular contact with city officials and the consulting firm
the city hired to study height limits.

Some of those concerns have been taken up by opponents of
Google, like the grassroots group Serve the People, who don’t
want to see the tech giant build a campus in San Jose.

“Corruption, negligence, and a lack of concern for SOME of our
lives have marked this dirty deal from the start,” the group said
in a tweet.

But some other labor groups that have raised concerns about
Google in the past and council members who have been receptive to
those concerns indicated they were open to working out a compromise
that could add affordable housing.

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Councilman Sergio Jimenez suggested the city allow developers that
are willing to provide affordable housing or other community
benefits to build higher.

The labor-backed group Working Partnerships USA endorsed the
idea, writing in a letter that the policy would help address the
possibility of residents being displaced.

“By developing an incentive zoning policy, we can ensure that
the benefits of the [upzoning] of Diridon Station and the downtown
core does not only benefit developers, landowners and corporations
like Google,” Jeffrey Buchanan, the organization’s director of
public policy, wrote in a letter to the council, “but ultimately
benefits the city’s residents by generating community benefits
like producing and preserving affordable housing and addressing
displacement.”

Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
San Jose: Anticipating Google campus, City Council approves taller buildings