The City Council has approved zoning to allow 38 acres of industrial land to be converted to a mix of single family homes, row homes and higher density stacked flats along Ferguson Drive.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve the zoning, which will allow up to 1,120 homes just north of Whisman Station in a development slated to be larger than Mayfield, though probably without as much controversy. The Environmental Planning Commission also backed the zoning change.
Drew Hudacek of Regis Homes said his company would develop only 55 to 65 percent of the density allowed, translating to 492 to 582 units in the first phase, which is slated for 28.5 acres.
The development, which has yet to be designed in detail, involves 9.5 acres in the second phase, which could be many years off. Phase two would require demolition of buildings still in use by Autochlor, an industrial washing machine company, and Cisco, which keeps a Webex data center there that is strategically important to the company, a lawyer told the council.
Council member Jac Siegel predicted the data center would probably stay for several decades, even though it would be surrounded by homes. "Phase one must stand on its own merits," Siegel concluded.
Council member Ronit Bryant suggested Cisco do something to make its parking lot more "green" and fit in better with the neighborhood.
Preliminary plans for the project include a centrally located park next to the data center that is "anticipated to be more than two acres, but the final park size will depend on the unit count," said city planner Stephanie Williams. The developer proposes a network of trails, sidewalks and a grid-like street pattern. There are three driveways along Ferguson Drive, and residents should be able to cross the light rail tracks to Pacific Drive at Whisman Station. Housing densities start small to the south and taper upwards away from Whisman Station.
"We think the plan is a great plan," Hudacek said. "We are excited it's near the VTA light rail station" at Whisman Station. "Creating more housing near [the city's job base is certainly the best thing we can do towards sustainability," he said.
Siegel, a major opponent of the Mayfield project, had mostly positive words for the project after noting that the site, located near Highway 237, was originally zoned industrial for a reason: the noise from the freeway.
"It's transit oriented, and provides a lot of housing close to businesses where people work," he said. "I think we have a quality developer looking at this."
But Siegel expressed concern that the zoning would allow too many homes if Regis were to leave the picture. "I don't understand why it can't go down to help protect it," he said.
Hudacek argued that the precise plan, also approved Tuesday night, would only allow about 900 units once requirements for setbacks and streets, for example, were implemented. He explained that the zoning would allow flexibility in the design of the project in case a "creative" design idea required a few more homes in a section of the plan.
The Valley Transportation Authority complained to the city that the homes in the zoning map were not dense enough near the Whisman light rail station. The approved zoning gives Regis the option to build either two-story single family homes or three-story row homes on the two blocks closest to the station. But so far, the council has expressed a desire for two-story single family homes, which would be lower than the three-story homes next door at Whisman Station.
The zoning would also allow up to 37,000 square feet of commercial space, such as a grocery store along Ferguson Drive. Preliminary plans show mixed use along Ferguson Drive, with retail on the first floor and housing above. A coffee shop in the interior of the development is a possibility, Hudacek said. Regis Homes will be required to incorporate at least 17,000 square feet of commercial space in the first phase, 10,000 of which may already be built.
Williams said the city would allow Regis to use 10,000 square feet of the first floor of the Autochlor building for retail space -- an idea which Autochlor has expressed interest in -- leaving only 7,000 square feet to be built.
Over a year ago, an economic feasibility study reported that a grocery store or other retail business wouldn't work in the development, even though neighbors wanted one. However, recently announced plans for several higher density office buildings north of the development have made the idea more feasible, said Siegel. The developer did not object to the retail requirement Tuesday night.
The City Council also approved an Environmental Impact Report for the project, which says that impacts to traffic on nearby portions of the 101 and 237 freeways are "significant and unavoidable." The resulting impacts to air quality from the development are "cumulatively considerable," the report says.
Because of the environmental impacts, the council also approved a "statement of overriding considerations" to move the project forward. The statement points out the importance of new housing near jobs and transit, park space and a mix of housing in order to meet different needs.
Although the development is just north of the former GTE plant that dumped toxics into the ground below Whisman Station, tests of the groundwater at the site found levels of volatile organic compounds "below screening levels." Nevertheless, the homes are required to have gas-impermeable membranes built into their foundations to prevent toxic vapor intrusion, and construction workers will be required to follow a host of safety precautions to prevent exposure to toxics in the soil.
The development was first proposed in 2005 by several property owners who had trouble leasing their industrial buildings for years. It initially included the 12-acre Francia orchard, which was later dropped from the project.
"We're now four years into this process," Hudacek said. "It will be at least another year or probably two before we can even start constriction."