It's been two years since a developer walked away from an unfinished project behind McKelvey Park, leaving behind four partially constructed houses and problematic site for neighbors. Now those neighbors say they have a solution in mind that could benefit everybody.
"Those four single-family homes are just sitting there," said City Council member Laura Macias, who lives nearby. "What the neighboring community would like to do is buy that land and enlarge the park."
Neighbors have asked city officials and a Santa Clara Valley Water District manager about buying the property and demolishing the homes to extend McKelvey Park, possibly as part of a proposal by the Water District to lower the park by 15 feet so it can double as a flood basin.
One neighbor was excited enough about the possibilities for the park that a question about the possibility of using eminent domain was met with enthusiasm.
"I can't think of a more appropriate application of the eminent domain law," said neighbor Steve Cutcomb in an e-mail. "When you look at the times other cities have used eminent domain to acquire properties, typically to help fulfill some business development theme area ... this seems even more sincere and civic minded."
The four homes are located directly behind the bleachers of the large McKelvey baseball field on a lot where two small homes were razed in 2001 to prepare for the development. Exactly what stopped the development, after six years of slow construction, is a mystery to neighbors. Macias said construction started in 2001 and was off and on before stopping in 2005.
Neighbors had been excited to see construction seem to start again in 2007, but something killed the project for good that same year. Nothing has happened since, except occasional weed abatement.
The Water District initially showed interest in using the property to save money on its Permanente Creek flood protection project. Under an arrangement considered by the Water District, the city would have purchased the property for itself with Water District funds.
"It would have been ideal," said Saeid Hosseini, a project manager at the Santa Clara Valley Water District, who said the deal would have negated the need for expensive retaining walls around the baseball fields. "But it didn't seem affordable for the project."
Some neighbors say they would like to see the homes finished. But others believe the structures have probably suffered too much weather exposure by now.
"I wonder who would want to move in after the tar paper has been rained on?" asked neighbor Dave Koberstein.
Cutcomb and Koberstein recently found a notice of foreclosure posted on the fence, with an auction scheduled for Aug. 11 with a starting bid of $1.085 million to cover interest that had accrued on a loan of $719,000. Koberstein considered bidding on the property, until he realized it was for only one of the four homes.
"People have asked the city, 'Why don't we buy it?" said city attorney Michael Martello. "But it would probably be a pretty expensive purchase."
But he added, "We could definitely try to acquire the property, no question about that."