A Humboldt County developer has begun construction of a 74-unit apartment building for seniors in an industrial neighborhood at the south end of Monterey Street in Gilroy.
Surrounded by a lumber yard, CalTrain tracks and a landscaping stone business, the affordable Gateway Apartments being built by Danco Communities of Arcata will have a sidewalk in front, but no route for its lower-income senior residents to walk off the property, except on the busy street.
A spokesman for the developer said it is not required to extend sidewalks past its property located approximately a quarter-mile south of 10th Street—which has sidewalks— and a majority of the City Council has no interest in using city funds to build a sidewalk. Property owners should pay for any sidewalk extension, council members say.
The project has been subject to changes amid some controversy over the past year. Its financing with affordable housing funds was approved by the City Council on a 6-1 in 2017, and the council then voted 5-2 in favor of the final construction plans. The apartments were first a project by AMG & Associates, which threatened to sue the city if its plans were rejected.
Following project approval one year ago, Danco Communities took ownership of the project.
The City Council had initially asked the developer to pay for sidewalks to connect the 74 units to 10th Street, but the developer denied this request and moved forward with plans, while threatening a lawsuit.
Construction began Sept. 24, and the only sidewalk that will be built is what is required by the city in front of the building. Danco and the city have no immediate plans to create a sidewalk extending to 10th Street.
Councilmember Daniel Harney voted against the project twice, and Mayor Roland Velasco voted against the project construction plans. Theirs were the only negative votes for the project.
Velasco said the developer paid money into a trust that the city is holding to eventually build a sidewalk along the street. Danco paid $73,438 for future off-site improvements. Extending the sidewalk to 10th would cost more than $200,000 just in materials, according to the city.
As the area between 10th Street and the Gateway apartments attracts new residential or commercial developments, each developer will pay a fee into the trust. This is how the city plans to create a sidewalk in the area.
The developer chose vacant land that Velasco said the city had no plans to develop. He said that under usual circumstances, development would have continued to happen closer to the city center and pushed outward, creating a natural length of sidewalk, with developers paying the city for the sidewalk construction.
Councilmembers Dion Bracco, who supported the project, and Harney, who opposed it, both echoed this thought. They said they had not anticipated not paying for the sidewalk, if the development of the street had happened as originally planned.
“Hindsight being 20/20,” said Velasco, “it was just never imagined that someone would leap frog that area.”
Although opposed to the project, he said he could not justify spending city money on a sidewalk to the senior housing project when other parts of city infrastructure needed to be maintained.
Danco Communities specializes in building and managing affordable housing communities. Their website states, “From affordable housing for seniors, veterans and low-income families to market-rate homes, we are continually looking for opportunities to bring new living options to the North Coast.”
Bracco said the fact that the units were considered affordable housing was another reason the project was difficult to regulate.
Velasco said, “Because it was initially a low-income project, their margins were very tight.” He said this made it hard to ask developers to pay for the additional sidewalk.
Public transportation does not reach that end of Monterey Street. Chris Dart, president of Danco communities, did not forsee the sidewalks being an issue for the future tenants.
“I think the people have a way to get around,” said Dart. He was not more specific.
Harney questioned how well the elderly community living in the apartments would be able to travel, if it was not by car. “We’re gonna have  units with seniors living in there that are gonna have to drive everywhere.”
Councilmember Bracco did not feel the sidewalks were an issue and told the Dispatch future residents will be able to see what the site looks like and make the decision for themselves.
In a Danco press release the project, is projected to house 37 individuals who are “formerly homeless.”
“The building will have its own on-site property manager, and the project’s common areas will
include a community room and kitchen, case management and therapy offices, outdoor seating in landscaped areas, picnic area with pergola, community gardens, ground-level parking and laundry on each floor,” read the press release.
Dart said there will be sidewalks throughout the property, but that Danco wouldn’t pay for additional sidewalks besides what was required.
Bracco, Velasco and Councilmember Fred Tovar believed that the space between the Gateway apartments and 10th Street would eventually get filled in with sidewalks as more development happened in the area.
Tovar said the sidewalk would happen as a result of future development.
“The city is not responsible for the construction of the sidewalk,” Tovar told the Dispatch. “However, a sidewalk will be constructed in front of the project, as this is a standard condition [of development]. Unfortunately, no sidewalk will be constructed from the end of the project sidewalk. “
Senior civil engineer Jorge Duran with the Gilroy Public Works department told the Dispatch in a statement that the sidewalk leading from the apartments to 10th Street will be an ongoing project for the city.
“In the event no future developments are identified in the near term, the city may take on a Capital Improvements Project,” said Duran. “However, given the extensive amount of time and funding required for such project, exact timing has not been established.”
Duran said the City Council will be presented with possible funding alternatives to complete the sidewalk at the next budget cycle.