Condos on the Table

200 units slated for former Indian Motorcycle plant
Gilroy – A developer looking to reuse the abandoned Indian Motorcycle plant has trimmed retail stores from his vision for the project, focusing instead on creating 200 units of “work-force” housing.

Tony Sudol, a former city councilman serving as representative for the project, said plans for offices and retail stores were dropped to avoid undercutting businesses in the surrounding 10th Street corridor. The project, slated for the 6.2-acre parcel at 200 East 10th St., lies within walking distance of two mid-sized shopping centers as well as the historic downtown corridor.

“If you look at all the sites around it, there’s a lot of commercial and retail now,” Sudol said. “If you add more, you end up competing. Our intent is not to compete with our neighbors, but to complement the area.”

Basic designs submitted to City Hall this month show the project will include 79 townhouses and a four-story complex containing 125 condominiums. A two-tiered garage, most of it underground, will lie beneath the condominium complex. Initial plans show the “U”-shaped building complex bordering 10th Street on the north side, with the townhouses to the south.

Sudol said the project jibes with the goals of urban planning.

“A lot of cities are looking toward developing (in) urban corridors – transit-oriented development,” he said. “Here you have a piece of property two blocks south of a multi-modal station. You’ve got Caltrain, the (Valley Transportation Authority) buses, transportation that comes form San Benito County.”

Though still in the earliest planning stages, officials and staff appear to favor to the project as a way to reuse an abandoned industrial site and further inject life into downtown.

“Anytime that you can put on that corridor more homes and more residential, then it’s going to help, not only because it’s close to Caltrain, but because it puts more people closer to the downtown and shopping,” Mayor Al Pinheiro said.

Growth figures v. downtown vision

Those benefits will likely factor into discussions about allowing the project to receive an exemption from the city’s growth-control measure – a necessary step if the project is to go up within the next 10 years.

Council members have had an ongoing debate in the last year about the growing number of homes approved outside the city’s 10-year limit of 3,450 new housing units. Some argue that the number has become meaningless as a measure of – and cap on – residential growth as more and more projects receive special exemptions.

Sudol’s project, for instance, is expected to add 200 units to the city but none of those units will come out of the 3,450 permits allotted for new development in the current 10-year cycle. In fact, the city has already doled out nearly all of those permits to other builders. If Sudol wants to avoid waiting for the next round of permit distribution in 2013, the former councilman will have to get a “master plan exemption.” The zoning category allows larger projects involving in-depth planning to receive building permits without having to go through the city’s building-permit competition. The city granted such an exemption this year to a project that will replace the old cannery, off Lewis Street, with 200 new homes and 40,000 square feet of commercial space. Officials have lauded the cannery project as the northern linchpin of a revitalized downtown.

Sudol, who envisions the Indian Motorcycle development as the southern linchpin of the area, suggested that the broader benefits of the project outweigh concerns about growth figures.

“What is it as a city we’re trying to achieve in terms of growth and development?” he asked. “You have an opportunity to leverage existing sites within the community, to redevelop and leverage the resources and infrastructure that already exists, instead of pushing (development) further and further out.”

An exemption for a price?

The Sudol project has reached City Hall as officials consider using their power to grant zoning exemptions as a way to extract more concessions from developers. Councilman Roland Velasco triggered the discussion earlier this month when he pointed out that the city in recent years has seen a growing number of planned unit developments, or PUDs, a zoning exemption that allows developers to deviate from standard design or construction requirements. In the spring, for instance, city council approved a PUD for Miller Avenue that allowed the construction of a cul-de-sac, which in turn allowed the creation of six homes where two now stand. Without the PUD, existing zoning would have made the project impossible.

Sudol’s project will likely require a PUD as well, according to Gregg Polubinsky, a city planner overseeing the project.

It remains unclear, however, if city leaders would use the PUD process to extract “value-added” benefits, such as a requirement that a percentage of the 200 homes be priced at affordable rates. The project now includes only market-rate units.

Council candidate Peter Arellano said the city should mandate some below-market-rate homes as a condition of approval, though he stressed he would need to see more details before making a final decision.

Council candidate and planning commissioner Dion Bracco said he would like to see up to 20 percent of the homes priced at affordable rates, although he felt the size and location of the project would accomplish that without city-imposed requirements.

Velasco echoed that sentiment.

“The fact that the units are market rate doesn’t concern me,” he said. “These units are going to be smaller, and because they’re smaller, they’re going to cost less, and therefore a greater percentage of the population will be able to afford them.”

Sudol said the “work-force units” would cost “far south” of the $700,000 typically charged for homes elsewhere in the city.

The old Indian Motorcycle plant has sat vacant since the company shut down operations in 2003. Ken Gimelli, a Hollister resident, purchased the land in 2004 for $3.5 million, although the county assessor values the property at $6.2 million.

City staff are now reviewing designs for the project and will hire a consultant to study potential environmental concerns in coming weeks. The project could reach planning commissioners and city council members for final review by late spring 2006.

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