Saying the ambitious North 40 project proposed for Los Gatos Boulevard is a terrible idea for the downtown, some business owners went even further to state the vibrant retail area would perish if the project comes to fruition.
"Our downtown would die if this gets passed," said longtime resident Susan Testa, owner of , during a joint meeting of the Los Gatos Town Council and Planning Commission Wednesday evening to discuss the project at the Police Operations Center.
The project calls for developing more than 40 acres of land primarily used by its owner and walnut orchardist Tom Yuki for agricultural purposes. The property is bounded roughly by Los Gatos Boulevard to the east, Highway 85 to the north, Lark Avenue to the south and Highway 17 to the west.
Yuki owns about 85 percent of the land, or about 32 acres and is poised to sell the property which will be converted into a multi-million dollar mixed-use development. Realtor Milt Mintz attended the meeting and said he's the listing broker for the property valued by the Santa Clara County Assessor’s Office at $14.4 million. Mintz said the land is in escrow and that the buyer is London-based Grosvenor Americas.
More than 10 residents spoke about the project, many of them active participants in its planning process. All of them expressed concerns with its impact to the downtown, schools, traffic and historic character of the community.
Rhodie Firth, who attended the two previous public meetings on the project, said she was suspicious when she learned the project already has a design group and an architect. "I just want you all to know that I feel very manipulated. They pretend they care about our ideas then they totally ignore them."
Los Gatos resident Larry Arzie said he was worried about highway circulation patterns and said the original North 40 plan showed a five-lane highway by demand from Santa Clara County. He also asked why Grosvenor was showing many conceptual drawings that look like "Santana Row," referring to the upscale shopping, housing, dining and entertainment complex in San Jose owned by Federal Realty Investment Trust.
Then in Arzie's typical tongue-in-cheek style, he said: "This is going to be such a fabulous center. So inviting, so strong that everybody is going to be pulled to it the way it's being developed ...
"It's a town within itself and we're going to lose our baby boxes in the downtown business district and we're going to have a commercial business collapse when they move to the new Santana Row," Arzie said.
Ginger Rowe's main concern was downtown's viability if the North 40 is developed with competing stores. She said other downtown merchants are just as worried. "We have all worked so hard to build this town and that's what's a big draw ... We don't need another downtown."
The speakers were followed by a lengthy 30-page Power Point presentation on the project's potential economic impacts. On hand were planners and urban designers with RRM Design Group, hired by the town to guide the North 40 Specific Plan, the guiding document for any future development on the property.
Also present were representatives from BAE Urban Economics who said they are preparing a market study and business development strategy for the North 40 Specific Plan. Also in attendance were Grosvenor officials who gave the audience a preliminary concept plan for the development.
"We still have a long way to go," said Debbie Rudd with RRM Design Group. "There still needs to be a lot of development of the plan and of the concept ... We want to make sure we stay consistent with the General Plan."
She added: "We need to emphasize that this is private property that has current zoning and can be developed. The town is not doing a development. The town is hopefully going to guide that development."
The presentation included market trends and preliminary findings of retail, office and hotel and meeting facilities.
BAE is completing a so-called retail "leakage" analysis looking at the difference between actual and potential retail sales in the area, how well the retail needs of residents are being met locally, what the strengths and weaknesses of the local retail sector are, if there are demands and opportunities for new retail types in the area and if shoppers are being attracted from outside the area.
Council members and planners seemed intrigued by the data presented to them. BAE Urban Economics will have the final study finished by July. They also shared what they felt were retail uses which aren't being met by the downtown such a places to buy appliances and electronics and the lack for senior housing.
"This is an information process for the commission and the council," said Los Gatos Mayor Joe Pirzynski about the meeting and others planned ahead calling the North 40 land a "gem that we can't get wrong."
One part of the presentation that raised concerns was information stating that the North 40 site with its "great setting and high visibility" could potentially have a luxury, boutique hotel and a business conference facility for 200-plus people.
Other suggestions that officials said could be integrated into the North 40 Specific plan include open spaces, a project with scaled down edges, preservation of view corridors, creation of a buffer to the freeway, reflection of the property's history as an orchard, provision of smaller parking fields and support of the arts.
They also assured that a 140,000-square-foot warehouse-sized store is not compatible with uses proposed for the site.
Next steps? An online survey will be posted on the Town of Los Gatos Web site to get more community members to give their feedback and the next meeting of the North 40 Advisory Committee is scheduled for 6 p.m., June 29 in the Council Chamber's lobby.