Group wins approval of co-housing project
On Tuesday the City Council unanimously approved a 19-unit "co-housing" project at 445 Calderon Avenue, the culmination of a two-year labor of love by a group of Baby Boomers who want to live together in a communal environment.
The group led by Susan and David Burwen say they are now set to build the first ground-up co-housing community in Silicon Valley. Susan Burwen called it an "environmentally sensitive, village-like community with gardens and paths and a clubhouse for sharing activities." With the architecture completed, "we are all very pleased with the results. The response has been overwhelmingly positive."
The project will be built on a 1.3-acre lot, displacing the 1885 home of Anne Bakotich and an old orchard with 49 trees classified as "heritage trees" by the city. With rear portions removed, the Bakotich house will be moved to the street frontage and converted to a 750-square-foot space for guests and a live-in caregiver. That makes room for a pair of three-story buildings connected by balconies that house the 19 units, common recreation and dining areas, a pool, a rooftop deck and an underground garage with an elevator.
Council members were enthusiastic in their support of the project, even though the group asked for special fee exceptions from the city to offset the costs of restoring the historic home.
"I haven't heard a single negative comment from anyone" about the project, said Council member Ronit Bryant. She said she liked the idea of the old farmhouse becoming part of the streetscape, as it is currently shrouded by trees.
"I knew Anne Bakotich and she would be very pleased that her house is being saved," said Mayor Jac Siegel.
In total, the group said they were facing a bill from the city for $1.2 million in fees. That includes $550,000 in below-market-rate housing fees if 1.9 BMR units are not built. One member of the group said he was "dismayed" by the process of getting the project approved, particularly the delays caused by a costly state-required Environmental Impact Report because the Bakotich house is considered historic by the state, even though it was removed from the city's list of protected historic homes at Bakotich's request.
City Council members supported the possibility of removing the BMR fee as an incentive for historic preservation, but put off their decision on that until it can be explored along with other options for financial relief. A member of the co-housing group said he would not be able to afford the project without some financial relief from the city. The $800,000 cost of restoring the historic home has already increased the cost for each household by $40,000.
Council members raised the possibly of counting the Bakotich house as a BMR unit, instead of requiring the large BMR fee. Council member Jac Siegel said he was concerned about setting a precedent by waiving the BMR fee. "I cannot support anything that will jeopardize the city for lawsuits," from other developers who oppose the city's BMR ordinance. "Ways to mitigate any risk of litigation has been one of the challenges of our discussions," City Attorney Jannie Quinn said.
In an effort to meet the city's parking requirements, Susan Burwen said the group would be spending $2.5 million on the underground garage, but even then they requested an exception to the city's parking requirements of 2.3 spaces per unit. She said the two spaces per unit approved is justified because the group is made up of older folks who don't need so many cars.
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