Sunnyvale and Santa Clara approve plans for Lawrence Station Area; open issues on housing and transportation

Sunnyvale and Santa Clara have both approved Station Area Plans for the underutilized area around the Lawrence Caltrain station.    In both cities, there are important questions still to be resolved; regarding housing in Sunnyvale and transportation in Santa Clara.

On Tuesday night, the Sunnyvale City Council approved a plan for the Lawrence Station Area in Sunnyvale, calling for a mixed use neighborhood with up to ~3500 housing units and 3.8 million square feet of commercial development.  At the same time, City Council set direction to explore options to increase the amount of housing in the area.

Sunnyvale is in the process of updating its General Plan, and the draft envisions the city’s jobs/housing imbalance getting worse.  To improve the balance, Sunnyvale Council members wanted to explore the possibility of shifting the development at Lawrence more toward housing, as one of several logical places to add housing.

Exploring and studying options to increase housing will take about a year. The Sunnyvale Lawrence Plan has a mechanism to stop and review when about half the office or half the housing is built, which prevents a risk of having the whole area assigned for development before the housing decision is made.

Another welcome tidbit of information from the Sunnyvale Council meeting – the new roads that are part of the plan are expected to allow VTA buses to serve the area, whose convoluted streets don’t currently get bus service.

Next week, Sunnyvale’s Planning Commission will review a 520-unit apartment complex and a 750,000 square foot office development for Kifer Road in the Plan area, taking advantage of the new plan.

Santa Clara approves Lawrence Plan with open transportation questions

The week before, Santa Clara City Council had approved that city’s plan for the Lawrence Station area, allowing up to 3,500 housing units, 104,000 square feet of retail, and 6.3 acres of public open space.  Santa Clara Council simultaneously advanced a 988-unit apartment building from SummerHill housing, with 39,000 square feet of retail space.

(While the plan was still being worked on, the city approved an 825-unit apartment building at the southeast corner of the station area, which is already open and renting apartments. )

While approving the plan, the Santa Clara City Council sought further study of the design for the streets bordering one of the parcels in the area.  The draft plan called for the housing development proposed by West Lake Urban, bordered by Ryder Street, Lawrence and Central Expressways to have no direct pedestrian access.  To get out of their homes without a car, residents would need to traverse a pedestrian bridge with two elevators, because Santa Clara County wanted Ryder Street to serve exclusively as an access ramp for the expressways.

Responding to concerns from residents, the VTA, and the developer, the City Council gave direction to consider alternatives for the Ryder Street exit.  The initial counterproposal from County Roads was to lower part of Ryder St. in conjunction with a planned grade separation for that segment of Lawrence Expressway, to be funded with money from Santa Clara’s Measure B which just passed.   According to a resident who attended the meeting, this proposal, developed in about one week between two meetings, has not yet been studied in detail for design, feasibility, or cost.  Also, the priorities for spending Measure B funds have not yet been set, and it’s not clear how soon the Lawrence Expressway grade separation might happen.

Nearby resident Daniel Howard has several suggestions for ways to configure the streets to allow residents to be able to get into and out of their homes by walking and bicycling.  One option is to revive an older ramp between the two expressways, allowing Ryder to be used as a local street.   He is seeking review of the options by the bicycle/pedestrian advisory committees for the City of Santa Clara and for the County (managed by VTA).  Stay tuned for more updates and how you can help encourage a pedestrian-friendly access.

SC Lawrence Ryder Old-ramp

Improving Caltrain service?

Currently, the underutilized area gets infrequent service.  Caltrain electrification will make it possible to add more stops in the same amount of time.   There will be a debate between those who want to see even faster service with fewer stops, and those who want to see places like Lawrence, which will have thousands more residents and workers in new buildings, to get more service.

Now that the plans are approved, one development is built already, and others are moving forward, it will be important for people who want to see these areas succeed to watch for opportunities to improve Caltrain service.