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[whitespace] Desire for cheap housing trumps worries over site

Los Gatos--Community Housing Developers on Feb. 16 won approval for an affordable-housing project after Town Council members voted 3-2 to overturn an earlier denial from the Planning Commission.

Voting against the project were councilmembers Randy Attaway and Joe Pirzynski, who said they would have favored a possible land swap with another town-owned parcel on Miles Avenue.

"There's probably a better place for this, but there's no pride in homelessness or making a three-hour commute to Los Gatos," Councilmember Steve Blanton said.

The site is an empty half-acre parcel between a PG&E substation and the town corporation yard, where trucks and other heavy equipment are parked.

But project manager Bill Zavlaris, who's well aware of the lot's shortcomings, says that the lot at 71 Miles Ave. was the best one available. The other lot where the swap was proposed is a pie-shaped parcel wedged between Highway 17, the Los Gatos Creek Channel and Miles Avenue, near the bridge over the creek.

"We seriously looked at that a year ago, and we decided [71 Miles Ave.] was the superior lot," Zavlaris told the Los Gatos Weekly-Times. That spot, he said, lacks room for parking, has too much freeway noise and sits on a blind corner. CHD bought the current site in June.

But in making his appeal to the council, Zavlaris didn't make any excuses for the site's awkward location. Instead, he played up its proximity to Los Gatos Creek, the creek trail and the downtown area.

"The trail is the lifeblood of this neighborhood, it adds a tremendous amount of vitality," he said. "It's not an isolated site. We have lots of activity, with people coming from other neighborhoods in town just to come down to this area."

Affordable housing advocates and religious leaders showed up to push the council on the issue, citing the sky-high rents in the area. "The site is appropriate; the architecture is well-designed, and the project is important for providing housing to Los Gatos workers," said Eric Morley, co-chairman of the Santa Clara County Housing Action Coalition.

The project's 12 units will bring the number of affordable housing units in the town up to about 600.

Some Edelen District residents continued to oppose the project, citing fears that the project would bring more traffic through the neighborhood and that the renters would be disturbed by activity at the corporation yard and isolated from the rest of the town.

A sound wall is set to be built between the development and the corporation yard. Another wall was planned for the substation side, but PG&E recently installed new transformers there that cut noise enough to eliminate the need for the second wall.

Tenants will be hand-picked from what promises to be a crowded field of applicants based on several criteria dictated by the town as a condition of its partial funding. Although anyone may apply, CHD will be looking for longtime residents of the town, renters who are being displaced by losing affordable housing, people employed in the downtown area, and at income levels.

Very-low income in Santa Clara County, according to the 1998 figures released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in January, is defined as $27,000 for a household of one, or $30,900 for two. Rent will be at least $640 a month, depending on cost of living increases and occupancy.

While those numbers make for a comfortable middle-class living in many parts of the country, Zavlaris contends that the stratospheric income levels in Silicon Valley are driving many low- and very-low income families out of the valley, driving up income levels even more.

While the studio apartments will be capped by law at two renters, most of the units will probably go to single renters, Zavlaris said.

Zavlaris says the first tenants could be moving into the 12-unit project by spring of 2000 if there are no significant delays in the building process, which is already about four months behind schedule. CHD's application still needs architectural and site approval from the Planning Commission and a building permit.

Almost half of the $1.5 million price tag will be covered by grants from the town and the county. So far, CHD has spent about $330,000 on the project, including $230,000 for the land, and various other fees and loans needed to get the project rolling.

The town's $430,000 share breaks down to $310,276 from the Redevelopment Agency's Housing Set-Aside Fund and $120,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding. Santa Clara County's $250,000 share is also made up of CDBG funds.
Jeff Kearns

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