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[whitespace] Commission rejects modified proposal

Changes are driven by potential tenant

Los Gatos--Planning commissioners shot down a proposal to alter a previously approved project on N. Santa Cruz Avenue, saying the revised project offered no community benefit and was out of character with the neighborhood.

Blackwell Brothers Development Company hoped to change the look and shape of its 518 N. Santa Cruz Ave. building to suit potential retail tenant Anthropologie. The modifications included eliminating second-floor apartments, adding retail space, increasing parking, and dramatically changing the design of the mixed-use building.

"All these changes that are proposed here tonight are based on the desires of the tenant," project architect Chris Spaulding said at the commission's Jan. 10 meeting. According to Greg Blackwell, the New York-based home furnishing company wanted more ground-level retail space and disliked the idea of residents living above the store. The revised proposal nearly doubled the amount of retail space.

Commissioners unanimously rejected the proposed changes, arguing that by eliminating the apartments the developer eliminated the project's community benefit. Commissioners also questioned whether such a large retail store fit on that end of N. Santa Cruz Avenue, which is zoned as "Neighborhood Commercial."

"Could you explain to me how you can justify an 11,297-square-foot retail establishment in a town that really doesn't support that sort of retail operation for it's character?" Commissioner Leonard Pacheco asked. "How could you propose this?"

Developer Greg Blackwell responded by questioning how the proposed use differed from such N. Santa Cruz Avenue businesses as Staples. He added that the proposal would bring another retail store into an area dominated by office spaces. "Just because it's large doesn't mean it has to have that corporate feeling," Blackwell said.

Only one other individual spoke on the issue. Christie Driscoll, who owns the building that houses Axis Personal Trainers, said the increased height of the revised projects would block her tenant's view of the mountains.

Commissioners, while not specifically addressing Driscoll's concerns, expressed their own reservation with the proposed design changes. While Spaulding said Anthropologie described the design as "Pottery Barn meets urban outfitters," the commission referred to it as "corporate architecture."

"We all sit up here as representatives of the public, and what we're hearing every time we sit up here is people want to maintain the character of Los Gatos--the small town feel of Los Gatos," Commissioner Peggy Marcucci said, "So it would be very difficult for me to approve a project that's been dictated by some company in New York for the sole purpose of making more money."

Blackwell Brothers did win approval of a one-year extension to begin building the original plans, which were approved in March 1999. The two-story building will feature retail space on the first floor and two apartments and office space on the second floor.
Nathan R. Huff

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