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[whitespace] Commission considers project that will be near gateway into Los Gatos

Los Gatos--Thanks to a developer's offer to contribute $25,000 toward a gateway for Los Gatos, those driving south on Bascom Avenue from San Jose may eventually see a sculpture welcoming them to town.

The contribution was offered as part of a proposal to erect a two-story building at the corner of Los Gatos Boulevard and Burton Road.

The commercial building fits town regulations, but many of the details and specifications may not work, since its location--on the northern border of Los Gatos--is included in the North Forty Specific Plan, the town's not-yet-implemented development guidelines for the 40 acres between highways 85 and 17 and Los Gatos Boulevard. Along with that, the town must decide whether or not the proposal fits with the Los Gatos General Plan, which serves as the town's development blueprint.

In addition, there are some other things to think about--the Valley Transportation Authority's proposed highway improvements may affect the traffic patterns in the area, and the property's location positions it as a "gateway to Los Gatos" for the people who are driving south from San Jose.

All these things made for a very complicated discussion at the July 25 Los Gatos Planning Commission meeting.

Developer Bill Errico presented his plan for a 20,000-square-foot, two-story building with both retail and office space, with parking around and under the building. Errico plans to merge the three lots at 14801 Los Gatos Blvd. and 16185 Burton Road, demolishing an existing home and old gas station on the site. The lot would then total a little less than an acre. In November, the planning commission denied Errico's proposal for the same space to be used for a convenience store with a gas station and carwash.

According to project designer Rodger Griffin, the current application fits the General Plan's requirement for a mixed-use commercial building in that area. The town's plan for Los Gatos Boulevard and the Draft North Forty Specific Plan both also call for developments of that nature.

The building, Griffin said, will be designed in a style similar to that of Forbes Mill, with like natural materials and architecture. The first floor will consist of common space--a lobby, bathrooms and an elevator--some office space, and 3,700 square feet for a Togo's, or another restaurant that provides outside dining. The entire upstairs will be used for offices, and Errico said that a medical group has already expressed interest in renting the space.

Griffin said that in designing the building, he followed many of the standards from Bill Hirschman's office complex nearby. The complex, also on Los Gatos Boulevard, has a building of 22,000 square feet and faced many of the same issues during the 1998 application process. There are some site differences, however, that allowed Hirschman's building to go above the height limit but prohibit Errico's project from doing so.

One of the biggest problems with Errico's proposal, planning commissioners pointed out, is the access from the street. Errico's idea is to provide access to the parking spaces from both Los Gatos Boulevard and Burton Road. Director of Community Development Bud Lortz confirmed that the North Forty will eventually close off vehicle access to Los Gatos Boulevard and that the section of the street will have six lanes and a median.

A solution would be to make the Burton Road driveway the primary access. That would be impossible, though, because the North Forty prohibits access off the first 100 feet of Burton Road, where the second driveway is proposed. The issue remained unresolved and will be addressed by town staff at a future planning commission meeting.

Commissioner Paul Dubois wondered if the traffic generated by possible highway improvements should influence a decision on Errico's building. Dubois brought up the Valley Transportation Authority's consideration to close the Lark Avenue exit off Highway 17 south to alleviate congestion.

Lortz responded the town disagreed with the proposal, and traffic problems would be caused by the closing of the exit but not the proposed building. "That has been a very large red flag that we have raised to the VTA," Lortz said.

Along with the design, Errico submitted a plan to contribute $25,000 for an appropriate gateway to the town. Commissioners suggested having the town's arts commission work with Errico to develop perhaps a sculpture near the property. Lortz said that the town would have to decide to either allow Errico to build the gateway or to take the money and hold some sort of design competition.

Errico's gateway funding gives the application an obvious benefit to the community. "Money is a wonderful offering," Lortz said.

Commission Chairman Jim Lyon commented that he felt Errico's effort to make the building's design fit in with the rest of the area--instead of making unique developments, such as the Office Depot and the Hollywood Video--was appreciated. "Designing in harmony with the site and the surrounding areas is a good thing, rather than trying to be a soloist and stand out," Lyon said. "I believe that there are enough statements in this town."

In the end, commissioners voted 6-1 for Errico to make some changes and provide additional information to the town before an Oct. 24 public hearing.

Commissioner Lee Quintana was the voice of dissension, saying there were other, unspecified issues that needed to be resolved. "It goes in the right direction--it doesn't go far enough, in my opinion," Quintana said.

In the meantime, town staff agreed to take a closer look at how the development fits under the various town regulations. The planning commission will most likely schedule meetings to examine the North Forty, Lortz said, but staff will decide how to reconcile the access and traffic problems with the project.
Gloria I. Wang

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