GUEST LETTER: Placemaking
By Kirk Vartan
I have been actively involved on the disposition of the former BAREC site (UC Ag Station on Winchester) for over 14 years. I started out just asking questions about the fenced off 17-acre property. When the answers I received did not seem reasonable, I kept asking questions and getting answers that were less and less appropriate. That led to my activism. My reason for involvement centered on utilizing this public land to serve the greatest public good.
Today, six acres remain. That’s a lot of land in one of the most valuable areas of the county, across the street from the second highest grossing mall in California with over 15 million visitors a year. That’s an average of over 40,000 visitors a day!
The opportunity and need to create the best development project on this site is paramount. Given the current designs and the light progress made over the past 18 months, I thought the City, the developer, and the community needed to take a step back to capture the aspirations of the hundreds of people who initially came together to advocate for an inspirational, ground-breaking, and progressive development on this site. We needed to do more to see how an extraordinary public asset could be created.
I’m glad the City Council is now looking at this property with a clear public lens. They have directed the City to engage the professional planning and placemaking organization: Project for Public Spaces. There are two sessions happening, the first tonight, March 24th at 6 p.m., and the second tomorrow, March 25th at 9 a.m.. Details are linked below.
To clarify the goals and objectives of this incredible engagement, I asked the City Council the below questions during public comment on Tuesday, March 21st:
1. Is there a concern with the ability to place retail or commercial on the site?
2. How will the Veteran Services Office be part of the discussion?
3. How will the adjacent Speno Center be looked at?
4. Do you want to explore different kinds of housing densities and configurations?
5. How will new transit technologies be evaluated to reflect the future of the area?
6. Lastly, has the scope changed since the Feb 7 council meeting? That agenda discussed a six-month process based on PPS’s original proposal for Five Phases, allowing for the site to be reviewed as a “blank slate” with the mandatory requirements. But the description on the agenda item during the last council meeting indicated a conclusion of the process in May. So I wanted to ask you about the PPS scope.
This site can set the tone for how the rest of Santa Clara will redevelop along Winchester towards Stevens Creek, on both sides. As a council, what are your goals for this project and what would you like to see done?
The response from the Mayor was pretty clear: “Yes to all of the above.” She concluded by saying, “ The process is going to take as long as we determine that it takes based on our community input.”
I hope you will attend tonight’s session as well as tomorrow’s. Here are the details: https://gem.godaddy.com/p/a0edc9