The long and winding road traveled by the Main Street downtown-style development took a major turn Tuesday night when the Cupertino City Council voted unanimously to approve the project, but not without some twists.
The unanimous vote was more about unity of the council over the project on Stevens Creek Boulevard at Finch Avenue getting built as soon as possible, than it was about agreement on the components of the development or the timing of construction.
And despite voting in favor of the project including a senior housing complex in the back along Vallco Parkway, the council left open a door for developer Peter Pau and his Sand Hill Property Company to possibly come back later and ask for loft-style unrestricted-age apartments.
Council members worked until almost 2 a.m. listening to public testimony—including protests from next door neighbors at the Metropolitan condominium complex—and going back and forth with Pau and his representatives trying to strike a deal that would ensure all of the development gets underway as soon as possible.
The project includes more than 130,000 square feet of retail, 260,000 square feet of office space, flexible incubator space for start-up companies, a 180-room hotel, the senior housing complex, a town square, a small park, and a 20-foot buffer between the development and the Metropolitan condominiums.
“Because the people want a downtown so much in our city I’m going to vote for this and I hope I’m wrong and it goes well,” Mayor Mark Santoro said before the council vote. “And if not, I apologize to the people of the Metropolitan ahead of time.”
Santoro expressed doubts throughout the evening that the entire development would be built by Sand Hill. His main concern was that the developer would build part of the project, and then possibly sell off remaining parcels that would then sit vacant for a long period of time.
Pau assured the council that his company planned on building the entire project, but he stood firm against requiring that all six parcels be built at once, explaining he could never get the financing.
“This is a great project and we have every intention of building it out, but you cannot put onerous conditions on it, because it’s not up to me," Pau said. "I’m the one who has to deal with the lenders.”
In the end, Santoro agreed with the rest of the council to allow two phases to the project, with Phase I getting underway within three years, and the senior housing and the park being built in Phase II. A bond was required to ensure the park is eventually completed.
The council asked that the developer come back within six months with a report on Phase II, primarily to show whether financing is available for a senior rental complex. If not, Sand Hill representatives could ask for a change to loft-style apartments, which would be followed by a public hearing process.
However, earlier this year Sand Hill removed a request for additional unrestricted age housing after residents complained about traffic and pressure on overburdened schools. And in fact at least two members of council said Tuesday night they could not support unrestricted age apartments, because of the possibility of more school children.
Earlier in the evening the council heard testimony from several residents from the Metropolitan housing complex next door who said they had been promised a park along the eastern edge of their development. The front doors and large windows of a number of condominiums open right up to the Main Street development site. A recent change in plans put a major anchor store, such as a grocery store, and a parking lot facing those homes.
The chief architect for Sand Hill, Ken Rodrigues, offered to add in a 20-foot green buffer zone between the parking lot and the homes. The buffer would link to the park at the rear of the parking lot, creating a sort of flag-shaped park.
The council later offered to add in another retail building in a corner of the park facing the town square.
Besides phasing and the buffer question, another sticking point for the council was what the hotel would eventually look like both outside and inside. Some members expressed disappointment that it is currently slated to become a Marriott Residence Inn, for fear the hotel would look too “cookie cutter”.
Sand Hill representative Kevin Dare showed the council slides of other Residence Inns around the country, and the one that caught the attention of council was one located in the Gas Lamp Quarter of downtown San Diego. The council said it wanted Sand Hill to create a hotel of the same quality look and feel of the Gas Lamp location.
In addition, the council voted Tuesday to vacate Finch Avenue. The company owns the easement land underneath the street that’s currently there, so the city was giving up its easement. Instead of running straight through from Stevens Creek to Vallco Parkway as it does now, Finch will serve as the main entrance to the development, then circle around the town square.