Piazza plan builds a community


The Patio and the Piazza may sound like a new foreign film, but in Gilroy, an innovative plan represents a new approach to urban development.

On the corner of First Street and Santa Teresa, The Piazza will soon be joined by a commercial development nearby. Both may be part of something bigger, developers say, a sign of a new kind of approach to building neighborhoods.

It may also indicate that hottest area of growth in Gilroy is moving west, towards Hecker Pass.

The story behind the Piazza was born in Italy.

“We were on a family trip in Italy and we stopped in a small town outside of Rome,” said Chris Vanni of Vanni Properties Inc. “When I saw it, I knew that was what I wanted.”

What it turned out to be was a 52,000 square foot commercial complex, that in many ways does not feel like a commercial complex. The Piazza is highlighted by a courtyard, surrounded by greenery, masonry inspired by Vanni’s Italian roots, along with a flowing fountain in the center.

“With everything happening around Hecker Pass and the possible new apartments near First and Kern, we wanted to build something with a walkable urban style,” said Vanni. “The whole idea is to create something that people would enjoy, so they could be outside and be able to walk to places without getting into your car.”

The Patio will be three buildings. On the corner of First Street and Kelton Drive, there will be a 2,500-square-foot coffee/restaurant pad, and there will be a 4,000-square-foot general retail building that can be divided in half. The third, nearest to The Piazza will be a 6,500-square-foot building that will be divided between restaurant and retail use.

“We hope the mitigation goes smoothly,” Vanni said. “Before we designed the project, we did a lot of studies. We did a parking analysis, a traffic analysis, we spoke to CalTrans, and we got our access points correct. We were able to get the correct easement off First Street. We don’t expect anything crazy to come from the report.”

Along with the continued residential expansion around Eagle Ridge, a new 202-unit townhome-style condo project has been proposed nearby on 11 acres on the southeast corner of the Santa Teresa Boulevard and First Street. And, a new 119-unit apartment complex development near the corner of First Street and Kern Avenue will likely come before the Planning Commision and City Council sometime in the middle of the year. This development, coupled with ongoing construction around Hecker Pass, indicate continued growth in the area.

In some ways, it sounds like the beginning of a town within a town. Walkable neighborhoods, with many of the daily necessities, shopping, restaurants, all within a short distance from each other. A nearby example of what that might look like the Carmel Valley development in Mountain View, which has a Safeway built inside the neighborhood.

The idea could be part of a way to combat urban sprawl, or, the continual urban expansion of a city. Gilroy voters recently acted on their dislike of unfettered expansion by passing Measure H, which set fixed boundaries on how Gilroy will expand.  Developer Gary Walton, who has built numerous mixed-use commercial/residential buildings is a believer in walkable neighborhoods.

“People are rediscovering these neighborhoods, and they like it,” Walton said. “People will pay more to be in walking distance of downtown. In Willow Glen and Los Gatos, people want to live near the downtown, and the return the city gets from protecting and maintaining these neighborhoods is greater than the revenue they get on revenue reserves. We’re losing money on that because inflation is higher than the rate of the interest.”

In the end though, you can build a walkable neighborhood, but you can’t force residents to walk. Vanni is hopeful.

“Now we just need to get people out of their cars,” Vanni said.