Though the developer behind Phase 2 of the North 40 development outlined sweeping changes to prior plans—and outlined a slew of new residential options, including high-density—during last Thursday evening’s Democracy Tent community meeting, it was quite a civil affair.
The tone of the meeting was set right off the hop by facilitator Lee Fagot.
“The goal is to get objective information,” he said. “In that way we all move together collaboratively.”
In the company’s first in-person meeting in around two years, Harmonie Park Development rep Don Capobres began by retelling the saga of his 13 years working on the mixed-use project in northern Los Gatos, as it changed hands, and now form.
The crowd of 15-20 people listened intently as he described how Grosvenor Americas sold Phase 1 to market-rate residential builder SummerHill Homes, and how Harmonie Park turned around and bought the retail portion of the development from SummerHill.
This portion of Phase 1’s been on hold for a year due to Covid-19, but Harmonie Park hopes to get things going again in the next couple months, Capobres said.
Grosvenor Americas is handling Phase 2 (although it’s still owned by the Yuki family), and Harmonie Park represents its interests, according to Capobres.
In the prior iteration, Town planners imagined a regional shopping mall with about 400,000 square feet of retail, envisioning healthy sales-tax inflows.
But with the big box dream of ‘80s and ‘90s America dying a swift death from coast-to-coast, developers went back to the drawing board.
And in some ways, that’s where they still are, Capobres said, as he flicked through his company’s latest mock-ups.
“We’re here to show you the direction we’d like to go,” he said, pledging respect for the agricultural heritage of the region. “This time around we would like to use the existing topography as much as we can.”
Just the other day, he noted, they moved an old house from one side of the property to the other to save it.
And the way they build around a historic farmhouse will draw inspiration from modern urban design projects, like Eastern Market in the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington D.C., Capobres told the Los Gatos residents.
But there will be plenty of challenges ahead, he warned.
“We know that traffic is going to be a big issue,” he said, explaining that will mean a transportation demand management plan. “We’re trying to get people out of cars.”
But the company is still in the “listening” phase, he said, pointing to two main development approaches on which he sought input—one focused on residential, and the other based on mixed-use.
‘I’m not trying to scare anyone, but it’s double the density’—Don Capobres, of Harmonie Park Development speaking about a potential Phase 2 housing type.
The reason the developer is leaning toward the mixed-use choice is because they want the property to become an integral part of Los Gatos; some nearby residents said they’d be less likely to visit public areas of the site if it was all residential.
“It wouldn’t feel like theirs,” he said, recalling prior consultation sessions. “They wouldn’t feel as welcome using it.”
In the mixed-use model, developers would like to put in a 250-room hotel. But the market’s so soft right now, they’re having trouble finding a partner.
“We can’t even really get phone calls returned from hotel operators,” he said, adding he’s still hopeful.
Capobres stressed the importance of delivering a mix of different housing types.
The developer wants to put in fewer than 40 townhomes, but between 100 and 200 multi-family residential units.
During the latter portion of the meeting community members had the opportunity to voice their support or concerns and ask questions.
One man inquired how the company could expect a profit when so much of the property appeared to be open space.
Capobres replied that, despite the heterogeneous plans, there would still be plenty of density going in—comparable to just over half of the prior Netflix campus expansion nearby.
And that includes residential construction at 40 units per acre.
“It is ‘high density,’” he said. “I’m not trying to scare anyone, but it’s double the density of what you have on Phase 1.”
However, if they wanted to get the biggest bang for their buck, they would’ve just put in all townhomes, since their self-contained garages make for a cheaper parking option.
It’s actually quite difficult to get a loan for the four- to five-story condominiums they want to build, although, he said, having Grosvenor behind the project means Harmonie Park will likely have easier access to the necessary capital than it would on its own.
Capobres said to expect similarities with Aventino: Los Gatos Creek Apartments at 200 Winchester Circle.
Phase 2 will likely also include office complexes, he added.
When one resident inquired about why the project doesn’t include a south entrance toward Highway 85, Wendi Baker, another Harmonie Park rep, said they’ve been working hand-in-hand with Caltrans to sort out the best traffic solutions.
It took four years of back-and-forth with the agency just to get bike lanes in the area, she said, adding another onramp would’ve probably required taking over people’s property.
Peter Hertan, a Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District board member, said Capobres’ appearance at the Democracy Tent gathering helped put a “human face” on the North 40 developers.
“He’s not there to squeeze every last dollar out of the development opportunity,” he said, adding he appreciates how cordial the dialog was. “We’re trying to be as encouraging for conservative viewpoints as progressive viewpoints.”
Carol Musser, a senior resident of East Los Gatos, said she learned a lot from the meeting.
“We were able to ask all the questions we wanted in a comfortable format,” she said, adding she hopes more people will get involved in the Phase 2 planning process. “We have a good long time to review.”
And she says Phase 2 has the benefit of Phase 1 hindsight.
“They now have learned from that and are able to apply these more appealing building concepts,” she said.
Capobres said, from his point of view, it was really helpful to be able to have a face-to-face with local residents.
“We know it’s going to be an extensive community engagement process for Phase 2,” he said. “The project always gets better because of the conversations we have.”
Fagot, the organizer, was pleased with the outcome.
“While we didn’t agree on everything, we listened to each other, and it was a healthy discussion for that reason,” he said. “And in the end, we found ourselves more aligned than we thought we’d be.”