If one attended Tuesday’s Sunnyvale City Council meeting where the fate of a 5.5-acre parcel of land commonly known as Butcher’s Corner, one would have spent several hours listening to a prolonged discussion on traffic patterns, lack of housing, school crowding and congested roads, not too dissimilar from many other such meetings across municipalities in Silicon Valley and across the Bay Area. The scenario is somewhat typical, it almost seems rehearsed—the city staff presents a thoughtful and professional e v a luation of the project. The developer is invited to speak in support of his project, the public is invited to provide feedback, which is almost always entirely in opposition to the project. The City Council takes it all in, ponders the evidence and proposals in front of them, asks clarifying questions that usually seem redundant and take hours to consider and finally, usually in the wee hours in the morning it approves the development, much to the chagrin of the public still in attendance.
This week’s meeting in Sunnyvale was no different, except for the surprisingly sharp opposition to this project, a development that is not very large by most Bay Area standards, is located in an infill location next to El Camino Real and Wolfe Road, a very busy intersection, and one that actually proposed reducing the scale of the development it originally was planning to create.
Butcher’s Corner has been in the spotlight in Sunnyvale since the summer of 2015, when the first proposals were unveiled to the city. Just two years before that, in 2013, DeAnza Properties purchased what was then the city’s last remaining working orchard and proposed developing 153 residential units—approximately 30 units per acre—and almost 7,000 square feet of retail/office space at the corner of E. El Camino Real and S. Wolfe road at 871 East Fremont Ave. in Sunnyvale.
Because the land was unincorporated, the city had to annex the property, which it approved in October of 2015, and continued working with the developer to construct a feasible plan for the site. That resulted in the current plan to develop 138 residential units (39 townhomes and 99
flats) and 6,934 square feet of retail/office use with surface and underground parking.
John Vidovich of DeAnza Properties presented the project to the Council, explaining some of the changes. One of the items he highlighted was the public park that covers almost one fifth of the property, which will also take into account saving a number of trees on the property, including a 300-year old oak tree.
The projected timeline for construction would be approximately 14 months for above ground development, and another 3 months for below ground work. The earliest occupancy would be anticipated in late 2018.
After the initial presentation, the following two hours were dedicated to public comment, which was largely not in favor of the development, calling this development LinkedIn II in one case (the LinkedIn campus in Sunnyvale is approximately 560,000 square feet), an urban oasis that will soon be destroyed and the last vestige of the city’s agricultural heritage.
Vidovich’s final feedback to the Council referenced that the development was improving the quality of the location by adding a park, tearing down a building that is “unsightly,” and developing a number of units at the location that is at a lower density than what the city’s recommendation is.
Council member Larry Klein pushed for one of the structures along Fremont Avenue to be reduced in height, which was not endorsed by his colleagues, causing him to reject the project. “I won’t be supporting this motion. I think from a staff standpoint removing one story helps, I think if we reduced the height along Fremont to four stories, it would have visually equalled, as we saw in the staff report, the height of the buildings across the street, so it would have created a comparable height from a vision as you’re going along Fremont,” he said. “There are other issues with this project that I see, but that’s [the] one thing from a size standpoint that could actually be useful.”
Council member Jim Griffith also expressed his concern about the development. While acknowledging that the city does need housing, he was not certain that the location was appropriate for this development in particular. “Just because we need housing, it doesn’t mean we necessarily have to build anything anywhere, and the question becomes the extent to which this particular project is appropriate for this particular location” he said. “It’s just not a well integrated layout.”
But the two opinions of the Council members Klein and Griffith were not shared with the rest of Council “If you go back and see what was the vision of what this looked like three years ago and how it’s evolved and changed, I think there are a lot of positive things that have happened,” added Mayor Glenn Hendricks as he addressed some of the concerns of his colleagues.
In the end the vote came to 4-2, with Council members Klein and Griffith dissenting and Council member Meyering being absent, giving the project the green light to proceed.