Sweeping changes to the city’s general plan proposed by staff at the Aug. 21 Cupertino City Council meeting drew a chorus of comments from local business owners and the council on how the plan may stiffen construction.
What might have gone unnoticed were it not for Councilmemeber Gilbert Wong was the proposal to add commercial zoning to the city’s quasi-public zones, which Wong worried could drive away churches and other places of worship from the city.
The city staff did not intend to change the city’s zoning to exclude churches. Wong’s concerns stem from a possible unforeseen reaction to the zoning by places of worship and other owners of quasi-public zoned land.
Quasi-public buildings on appropriately zoned land are not exclusively churches, but can include operations such as homeless shelters, utility companies and their enclosed storage yards, child and residential care facilities, clubs and their accessory lands (swimming pools and golf courses) as well as places of worship and their administrative buildings, classrooms and parking lots associated with them.
The proposal to add commercial zoning was, in the words of Aarti Shrivastava,
Director of Community Development, to “preserve flexibility to allow either the [general commercial] or [quasi-public] use.”
Because places of worship do not have a separate zoning ordinance, changes that affect, Deep Cliff golf course, for instance, will affect St. Andrew Armenian Church as well.
And while, not to push a hypothetical too far, allowing Deep Cliff to open a pro-golf shop on their land has a nugget of sanity to it, if pressed however, one can be at a loss as to what St. Andrew could open on their, now immensely more valuable, land. And this question is the heart of Wong’s concerns.
“Churches might rent-out their land as it is more valuable and possibly even more out of the city,” Wong said. Wong added that the zoning change could increase the value on the already expensive land, prohibiting more churches, and other places of worship, from moving into the city.
Currently, if a church such as Abundant Life (which sits on a lot the size of Whole Foods) decides it has too much land tied up as parking spaces, it can either expand the church’s buildings and amenities or permit another church to break ground on their tarmac.
Under the new rules, nothing would prevent Abundant Life from cutting their parking lot in half and opening, what Shrivastava proposed as “a large shopping center or a single large store.”
Or, as Wong fears, Abundant Life could close down entirely and re-locate to another city while being fully subsidized by the new shopping center that now pays rent to the church.
While Shrivastava said that the change will be based off a “select group of large sites” and only if appropriate, the purpose of the amendment is still to permit large-scale commercial development.
“The General Commercial zoning would allow retail, commercial offices, etc,” wrote Shrivastava. “The idea of adding [general commercial] allows more sites to be considered for large-scale retail uses since the city doesn’t currently have many such sites.”
Although, the amendment is subject to change between its last iteration and the version, which will be presented to the city council later this year, especially the quasi-public zoning amendment, which Shrivastava said is under greater analysis.
“We will be studying issues including those brought up by Councilmember Wong as part of the analysis,” wrote Shrivastava.