The Valley Transportation Authority Board of Directors on Aug. 5 voted to postpone its search for a developer that would construct a housing project at the Gilroy Transit Center.
The decision came a few days after a majority of the Gilroy City Council requested such a delay to give city officials time to understand the process and work out parking issues.
The VTA envisions the project at the transit center on Monterey Street near Seventh Street in downtown Gilroy. The nearly eight-acre property, owned by the VTA, is currently a parking lot for VTA bus and Caltrain passengers, and serves various bus lines for VTA, San Benito County Express and Monterey-Salinas Transit.
Conceptual plans for the project outline a five-story structure with 110-150 units of housing for people with incomes considered low, very low and extremely low.
But Mayor Marie Blankley questioned how the project could handle parking for both the residents of the development as well as for the transit users.
The development is expected to take up roughly half of the current 471 parking spaces on the property, according to Ron Golem, director of real estate and transit-oriented development for the VTA.
However, Golem said the VTA has committed itself to replacing all the parking, such as adding more spaces underneath the development and relocating the bus lanes to the street.
Such a requirement would also be outlined to developers in the Request for Offer document, and proposals that don’t meet that criteria would not be brought to the board for consideration, according to Golem.
Blankley said the VTA refers to the parking lot as “underutilized,” but she stressed that it’s more of a case of being “underserved,” noting that the VTA only offers one bus at 15-minute intervals to the center.
Gilroy has about 400 units of low income housing already in development, such as the project currently under construction at First Street and Kern Avenue, which Blankley said would add much more demand to the transit center than VTA’s project.
“This TOD proposal feels like VTA is shirking its responsibility for transit and using much-needed housing to hide it,” she said. “It brings housing at the expense of transit we are still waiting for.”
Golem said the project, if it moved forward, would have to receive planning approval from the city. Blankley suggested a delay in issuing a call for developers would allow city staff to be involved in the project and work out any issues.
Board member Joe Simitian motioned for a two-month delay.
“It’s pretty clear to me that we haven’t got a lot of trust going on right now,” he said. “People are getting polarized before there’s even been a request for proposals.”
Board member Rich Constantine motioned that the VTA move forward with the search, saying that the four- to six-month process would give the city and VTA the time to work together.
“We all have agreed that we are in favor of transit-oriented development,” he said. “It’s not that we’re fighting the development, it’s that we are arguing over parking spaces and how that’s going to be taken care of. I just don’t see that as a reason to stop the process.”
Constantine’s motion failed due to lack of affirmative votes, while Simitian’s request for a two-month delay was approved with only a dissenting vote from board member Magdalena Carrasco.
At the Aug. 2 Gilroy City Council meeting, City Administrator Jimmy Forbis said the city is unsure of its place in the process, and what the council’s role is in considering the project for approval in the future.
“We are not against housing, we are not for delaying housing,” he said. “We are just trying to better understand the process.”
Councilmember Zach Hilton said the project remains in the very early stages, with no building applications for city staff to analyze. The issues raised by the city would be addressed in future impact reports the project would generate, he noted, calling the request to delay “out of order” in the process.
“This is not how the process works,” Hilton said. “There’s no project submitted to respond to. We have homeless in our streets and hundreds if not thousands facing rent burden and eviction right now. Housing comes before free subsidized parking.”
Councilmember Carol Marques said the location of the development didn’t make sense, especially since it would be close to the fumes from the diesel trains.
“These apartments where they’re proposed to be built are not somewhere I would put my own family in,” she said.
The council voted 4-2 to allow Blankley to request the VTA board delay the Request for Offer on behalf of the city. Hilton and Councilmember Rebeca Armendariz dissented, while Councilmember Peter Leroe-Muñoz was absent.
Armendariz and Hilton both spoke in support of the development during the public comment portion of the VTA’s Aug. 5 meeting.