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June 2, 2023
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After 11th-hour tweaks, contentious senior living project nearly wins over Council

Tallest-Building-in-Town Proposal to Get Planning Commission Rematch

Despite the Planning Commission’s 7-0 push for the denial of Covia Communities’ Los Gatos Meadows senior living project, the developer’s initial reluctance to heed calls to include affordable units and Town staff’s own recommendation that Council reject the proposal, elected officials nearly approved it, April 5.

Had it gone forward, it would’ve been the tallest building ever OK’d in town.

Mayor Rob Rennie and Councilmember Marico Sayoc both voted for the development, located at 110 Wood Road, after the applicant promised late-breaking tweaks and floated Below Market Rate units it had previously tried to avoid accommodating.

Councilmember Matthew Hudes voted against, citing lack of information about the last-minute changes.

And Councilmember Mary Badame also voted down the contentious item, calling its height the “elephant in the room” and the “sticking point” she just couldn’t get past.

Story Poles
The original Los Gatos Meadows building was condemned due to safety issues. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

Because Vice Mayor Maria Ristow’s own home neighbors the site, she recused herself—so the motion failed.

Had it passed, it would’ve been a remarkable turnaround for a project whose team was derided by planning commissioners Jan. 12 for a seeming lack of interest in seeking ways to contribute to the Town’s affordable housing goals, among other complaints.

During that meeting, planning commissioners asked Covia representatives if they were interested in soaking up feedback and having a second go at drawings, before returning.

But they weren’t.

Instead, the developer opted to see if it could win over the council.

From above. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

But then, the applicant fired off a letter to the Town, March 17, claiming the team had figured out a way to include affordable housing on the property—despite having previously been at pains to stress the company has never done so in this type of facility before.

The letter even emphasized how, under a State loophole, the Town can’t require them to follow the 20% affordable rule required for other developments.

And while some observers had predicted Covia would fail in its end-run around the Planning Commission, their letter—which pitched a new design with no top-story penthouses, more one-bedrooms, and even the suggestion of the “potential” for Below Market Rate housing—resonated with Rennie and Sayoc.

“We lack this type of housing, and there’s an opportunity for additional affordable units,” Sayoc said. “So, at this time, I’m ready to move forward.”

Sayoc made the motion to approve the project, with Rennie seconding it.

Badame agreed the need for senior housing is a real one.

“The luxury and the size of the units—that doesn’t bother me at all,” she said. “For me, I’m very concerned about the height.”

Hudes said he wouldn’t give in-depth feedback without seeing legitimate plans for the new concept.

“It looked like the maximum height was doubling, and the minimum height was increasing by 40 percent,” he said, suggesting the materials he received were saying different things. “There was a chart in there with some yellow rectangles—or shapes and plus signs on it—but that didn’t seem to match what was in the very beginning of the staff report that indicated a great increase in height.”

Rennie commended the applicant team for changing their tune and considering the possibility of affordable housing.

“I appreciate that they removed the penthouse units, and reduced the number of two-bedroom units,” he said. “I also really appreciated their willingness to put in the seven below market rate units…If you’re gonna let ‘em in for Below Market Rate, you’re not going to be able to charge them the same price for services, either. So, somehow that needs to be figured out and covered…It adds some complication.”

senior living plan
Covia Communities wants to make improvements to wildfire safety in the area. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

Hudes said he wasn’t sure Council had ever approved a development with such little information about what it would actually look like.

“I don’t believe that the council has approved something without drawings, without the detail that would be here for a planned development,” he said. “It troubles me to be able to support something that sounds good, but lacks the substance of what we’re going to get.”

Badame brought up the idea of sending it back to the Planning Commission—something Covia had sought to avoid.

“I’m also not comfortable approving this tonight,” she said. “I think this needs to be vetted more thoroughly with the Planning Commission.”

story poles in Los Gatos
Story pole flags flutter on in the late afternoon of April 7. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

After Sayoc’s motion failed, Badame made another—to remand the project to the Planning Commission. This passed unanimously, despite the mayor’s qualms.

“I don’t think we need to do that,” he said of the move, which he ultimately supported. “My preference would be to approve it.”

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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