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Gilroy
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June 18, 2021

Guest View, Connie Rogers: VTA housing proposal would overwhelm downtown

We are writing as a citizens’ group of Gilroy residents who are actively involved in Gilroy planning issues. Several of our members participated in both of the recent Zoom meetings with VTA staff and PlaceWorks regarding the transit-oriented development you are planning to build on the parking lot of our historic train station. 

The 1918 Southern Pacific train station is now on the National Register of Historic Places. With VTA’s help the city restored the station in 1998 at a cost of nearly $1 million. It functions as an important multi-modal transportation hub, serving Caltrain, Greyhound, three VTA bus lines, taxis and shuttle buses from Hollister and Salinas.

We appreciate being included in design planning for the 140-160 affordable units for families. A number of good ideas were discussed, however it was very obvious that the planners do not know Gilroy and were designing in a vacuum. What was not considered were several factors applying to Gilroy as a whole community. Among them are these:

1. Gilroy is not urbanized like San Jose and larger, more dense cities north of us. Our needs are quite different. Large, monolithic high-rise buildings do not fit here. Almost all of our buildings are two or three stories, even downtown. Just the mass of a five-story building will overwhelm the area.

2. Parking is a critical need because we are at the end of the Caltrain line. When Gilroy had four trains/day our parking lot was completely full and so was the San Martin parking lot. Parking east of the train tracks would not serve us because boarding for Caltrain is on the west, next to the historic station. Furthermore, most of the residents who would use Caltrain live on the west side of town and even commuters from Los Banos, Hollister and Salinas (we have many) need to board on the west side. There is no way to cross the four tracks without walking a long distance via either Seventh or 10th streets and absolutely no guarantee that the now empty lot on the east side would be available for future parking.

3. Gilroy has already met 350 percent of our Regional Housing Needs Allocation for the low-income category and has several affordable apartment projects under construction. At five stories this proposal is not compatible with our historic downtown and station.

4. The area is industrial, not residential and not suitable for families with children. A large commercial bakery will adjoin the property on the south. It will operate gas ovens 24 hours a day with noise and emissions and include a fleet operation and distribution center. Caltrain parks its diesel engines which run throughout the night on the tracks to the east. The area is an environmental justice zone established by the State and called out in our 2040 General Plan.

5. It is likely that employment and commute patterns will change following the pandemic. None of us knows how this will affect Caltrain and the Gilroy station.

6. We have had negative experiences with the 200-unit, five story Alexander Station apartments near the station on Tenth Street. They are poorly designed and managed, causing health and police concerns in regards to access. Our residents prefer smaller, lower rise buildings with open space around them like the 103-unit Cannery Apartments on Lewis Street and the 98-unit Harvest Park apartments on Cohansey Avenue.

7. No one can predict when High Speed Rail or even Caltrain electrification is coming because Union Pacific owns the tracks. We definitely can’t depend on them to provide much-needed parking.

We ask that you consider all these factors in planning for use of the VTA parking lot. It is currently performing a very essential function for the multi-modal transportation center. High rise development on the parking lot is in direct conflict with the intent of our Downtown Specific Plan.  Our historic downtown is part of the city’s plan for economic development and tourism and this development seems very premature at this point.

Connie Rogers is chair of Gilroy Growing Smarter. She sent this letter to the VTA Board of Directors.

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