The owner of high density residential property at 160 Aries Way recently won the Sunnyvale city council’s vote for a land use study to shift zoning to commercial. The property currently contains a nondescript post office and 21 residential units.
Although no construction plans have been finalized yet, the owner intends to redevelop the property to include approximately 103,590 square feet of office and commercial retail space. This redevelopment includes an increase in building height from 85 feet (the current maximum) to 100 feet — a small increase, but a step in the right direction. The neighboring properties are all four to six stories in height.
The property owner believes the redevelopment has the potential to create an “architectural monument” for downtown Sunnyvale due to its prominent location in direct view of the neighboring Caltrain station, a stop at the Murphy Square Plaza Heritage District along the San Francisco Peninsula. Proximity to the station, which is separated by Plaza del Sol from the building site, supports convenient commutes to the proposed offices.
(Perhaps it was not considered that proximity to the station currently benefits existing residents who may also use Caltrain to commute to work in other areas.)
The owner further notes that employees at the proposed offices will contribute to the local economy through spending at local restaurants and retailers in the downtown area.
Existing tenants of 160 Aries Way and other Sunnyvale locals reservedly agreed to the owner’s request for a land use study at the council meeting — contingent on the inclusion of residential units in the project. In fact, advocates of the study requested repurposing the property to mixed-use rather than exclusively commercial. Mixed-use developments historically benefit communities by creating safe, economically thriving areas with a balance of residential and employment opportunities.
Locals cited additional concerns about increased traffic, parking limitations and tenant displacement in opposition to the owner’s desire to eliminate the existing residential units on the property.
The property owner claims they intend to implement a relocation plan for the tenants, according to the request letter submitted to the city council in January 2016. However, the letter doesn’t specify what the plan entails, and no further explanation has yet been requested by the city council.
At this point, the project is still conceptual. The city council needs to conclude their land use study and, assuming it approves either a commercial or mixed-use zoning change, the property owner needs to draft and submit concrete plans for the site.
However, the owner’s current intention to rid the site of residential units poses a critical question: In light of the Bay Area’s Sisyphean struggle to retain residents amidst outlandish costs of living and diminishing housing prospects, is it wrong for a long-time property owner to revamp their improvements?
Let us know in the comments below and check back with first tuesday Local for future updates on the project’s progress.