Santa Clara hopes to recreate the Downtown it gutted 63 years ago

Approved plan allows for nearly 1,100 homes and 730K sf of shops within eight blocks

Santa Clara Hopes to Recreate the Downtown It Dismantled
Santa Clara Councilman Councilman Anthony Becker and a rendering of the Proposed Downtown redevelopment between Lafayette Street, Homestead Road, Benton Street and Madison Street (City of Santa Clara)

Six decades after Santa Clara gutted its Downtown for a shopping mall that was never built, the city has approved a plan to redevelop the former hub with businesses and nearly 1,100 homes.

After years of planning and support from grassroots groups, the city has backed a “downtown precise plan” that would transform eight city blocks between Lafayette Street, Homestead Road, Benton Street and Madison Street, the Silicon Valley Business Journal reported.

The new 25-acre zone could add up to 1,071 homes, more than 2.5 times allowed by the city’s general plan. It also allows for up to 729,600 square feet of shops and restaurants, 5.6 times more than previously approved.

The plan, which took five years of work and more than 40 meetings to complete, is different from a general plan.

The downtown precise plan gives builders flexibility to determine what uses will be allowed, while providing precise requirements for building design to help provide cohesion with other nearby developments.

Among its goals were to restore Santa Clara’s original street grid, build three public spaces and create a dynamic retail shopping experience, according to the Business Journal.

“This was not intended to be a plan that would sit on a shelf, but instead a plan that would spur development and investment,” Reena Brilliot, assistant director of community development, told the newspaper.

The plan allows mid-rise and high-rise offices, and townhomes up to seven stories, giving priority to ground-floor shops, restaurants and cultural centers.

Brilliot said that within the 25-acre Downtown area, the city owns more than 5 acres and could serve as a catalyst for development.

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She added that while the zone was still susceptible to housing projects that fit within state law, the fact that the new plan has so many specific requirements means that developers would have to adhere to most of them because the law allows few waivers.

“Because we have so many requirements, they might be able to waive a couple of things but they won’t be able to waive everything,” Brilliot said.

It has been 63 years since Santa Clara called for demolishing eight blocks next to Santa Clara University to make way for a pedestrian shopping mall and high-density housing. Neither was ever built.

Santa Clara’s plan was spurred by Reclaim Our Downtown, a grassroots advocacy group that expanded from five to more than 4,500 members.

In voicing his support, Councilman Anthony Becker recalled stories he heard from family members about how vibrant the city once was — and how he’d hoped for those same experiences while growing up.

“This won’t happen overnight,” Becker said of the redevelopment plan. “But this is the biggest step to get there.”

— Dana Bartholomew

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