The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority presented two conceptual plans for a large mixed-use development at the Gilroy Transit Center on April 22.
The VTA is planning 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.
According to the VTA, the site could be used for a mixed-use development of housing, retail and employment centers. The project would fall under the VTA’s Transit-Oriented Development program, which requires 20 percent of housing to be considered affordable, and at least half of those units targeted toward extremely low and very low income households.
The VTA previously held virtual meetings in English and Spanish in February to gather input from the public.
Among the comments received at those meetings, the public highlighted the need for affordable housing for people with an income considered extremely low and very low, according to the VTA, with many participants wanting more information on how to apply for the proposed units. Others requested outdoor spaces for children and families to be incorporated into the development.
Rents could range from $1,050 to $2,800 for a two-bedroom apartment, and accommodate families of four earning between $47,000 and $126,000, according to the VTA.
Bruce Brubaker of PlaceWorks presented two conceptual plans for the development, but advised it was subject to change.
For the first phase of development, both plans show a five-story structure built on the southern end of the property, with about 140-160 units of housing. About 240 units of parking would be constructed below the building, with 40 of those being shared for transit users.
The first phase would leave 202 parking spots at the transit center, in addition to the shared spaces, Brubaker said.
A future phase could be constructed if the proposed high-speed rail project is built out, but that might not start until 2028 at the earliest, according to Brubaker. Early plans for the second phase call for less than 160 units of market rate housing on the northern end of the property, with possible retail uses on the ground floor of a multi-structure building.
Parking for both the transit users and the future residents was one of the top concerns based on input from the first meetings.
Brubaker said the 471-space parking lot was 63 percent used during a survey done in September 2019.
Should the high-speed rail development pan out, that project would construct its own parking lot on the east side of the property, adjacent to Alexander Street, according to Brubaker.
According to a timeline presented at the meeting, the VTA Board could choose a developer for the project by the end of this year, with design work continuing into 2024. Construction could begin by mid-2024 and end in 2026.
Affordable housing shortage
Gilroy is falling short of its state-set affordable housing goals, especially in the very low income category.
Every eight years, the state gives cities a goal to permit a certain number of housing units by income level.
According to the most recent data by the California Department of Housing and Community Development, Gilroy has permitted 129 units of very low income housing units in the last five years, with a goal of 236 units by 2023.
Gilroy has surpassed its goal of permitting 160 low income housing units, with 567 permitted in the last five years. It has also well exceeded its goal of 475 units for above moderate income housing, with 1,196 units permitted.
City Councilmember Rebeca Armendariz said the VTA’s meetings on the proposed development give Gilroy a chance to help shape the project into something that “will be best for our community.”
“We know that, especially for our working class folks, we really need affordable housing,” she said.
According to Gilroy’s 2040 General Plan, the Gilroy Transit Center property has a mixed-use zoning, which allows for multi-story structures consisting of residential, retail and other uses.
Gary Walton, president of the Gilroy Downtown Business Association, said the project, as it is currently proposed, would be out of place in the downtown, with few buildings in the area standing at more than two stories tall.
“While the GDBA supports affordable housing, we are not big fans of oversized buildings that do not fit the character of the downtown or its historic neighborhoods,” he said.
Walton added that the GDBA would prefer to see a series of smaller buildings and various elevations, “much like the downtown and neighborhoods were built.”
Parking, meanwhile, is also a concern, Walton said, noting that VTA’s study of the transit center’s lot was done at a time when gas prices were low.
“As gas prices continue to rise, demand for mass transportation will increase but there will be no public space for transit riders to park,” he said. “It will spill over to the on-street parking in the neighborhoods and downtown as well as fill up the few public parking lots we have.”