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[whitespace] Development at Kmart site approved by city council

Willow Glen--San Jose's city council listened to public criticism of a development planned for the southeast corner of Southwest Expressway and Fruitdale Avenue, but then voted unanimously to approve the rezoning of the project on Dec. 12.

The council's approval is just the first step before construction can begin on the new mixed-use, retail-residential development. The owner-developer, John Vidovich of De Anza Properties, still needs council approval for planning and building permits.

However, Vidovich moved closer to seeing the two years of work he and the city's Redevelopment Agency have put into the plans for the 451-residential-unit complex along the Light Rail Intensification Corridor pay off.

A six-story commercial building also planned for the site will be reviewed by the city council in the spring, as its approval will require an amendment to the city's general plan.

Representatives from the Silicon Valley Manufacturers Group and the Santa Clara County Board of Realtors, as well as nearby residents, spoke in support of the project at the meeting.

However, a number of neighbors in the residential communities surrounding the site, currently occupied by a Kmart store, some ancillary stores and a large parking lot, were not pleased that the city gave the project its initial approval.

"The project is well planned in terms of the project, not in terms of the neighborhood," nearby resident Randi Kinman said.

Neighbors said they are concerned about the increased traffic the new development will generate, pointing out that their residential streets are already congested by traffic from Southwest Expressway and the nearby Interstate 280 on-ramp.

They also said the proximity of the development to public transit will not reduce the use of cars by the new residents, which could amount to 900 vehicles. The Fruitdale Light Rail station planned for the corner of Fruitdale Avenue and Southwest Expressway won't be completed until 2004.

Nearby residents said they are also worried about the increased density the new project will add to the area. Several other developments near that section of Southwest Expressway are also in various stages of approval by the city.

Residents said that in a year of neighborhood meetings, neither the city, nor the developer, has listened to their concerns.

The 10-acre site is actually zoned for 900 residential units in the city's general plan. District 6 city Councilman Frank Fiscalini said Vidovich has been very accommodating of the neighbors' concerns by reducing the number of units by half, locating the tallest buildings on the site away from the neighborhoods and providing parkland and a parking lot for the light rail station.

Neighbors said they would prefer a development with only 250 units.

Vidovich and city officials acknowledged the neighbors' concerns but said the proposed development was not the cause of the community's problems.

"The project cannot solve the neighborhood's problems that are there," Vidovich said. "There is no reason to hold it hostage."

He pointed out that the lack of open community space in that area will be alleviated by the courtyard in the middle of the development that will be open to anyone.

The council said approval of the project would include some specific traffic improvement measures, including a traffic signal at Fruitdale and Southwest Expressway, a lighted crosswalk at the middle of St. Elizabeth Drive and other traffic-calming measures.

James Derryberry, director of the planning department, said the proposed project meets all the city's traffic standards.

Fiscalini said this will be a "first-class development" and is in line with the city's interest in developing the light rail corridor and providing more housing. The site is one of the Redevelopment Agency's Business Cluster areas and 15 percent of the units will be below-market-rate rentals.

"I think it ultimately will become a welcome addition to the neighborhood and will increase amenities to the neighborhood and will clear an area that is blighted," he said.
Kate Carter

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