3550 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95051
Project Type: Affordable Housing + Commercial
Owner/Developer: Resources for Community Development
Presented to our members: August 2021
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* Projects go through several phases. Developers submit applications to the City, get their design reviewed, do redesigns based on City & community feedback, resubmit proposals for review, and get approval (though can even redesign after approval)
Clara Gardens Project Scorecard
Clara Gardens by RCD Housing features 120 affordable apartments and 1,172 square feet of ground-floor commercial space on 1.07 acres along El Camino Real in Santa Clara. The project will feature a mixture of studio, 1-bedroom, 2-bedroom, and 3-bedroom units as well as on-site amenities including a children’s playground, two community rooms, and active green space that extends from one of those community rooms. RCD is proposing to build 93 residential parking spaces for cars but also proposes a secure bike locker and lounge area
Clara Gardens scored 4 out of 5 overall from our Project Advocacy Committee members.
Community Score: 4/5
We believe RCD has been doing an excellent job at engaging with the community in relation to this project. We appreciate that RCD’s community engagement efforts include a variety of methods - such as door-to-door outreach, conversations with current affordable housing residents, and even openness to what the commercial space might be - to maximize public input and involvement. Going forward, our main concern is the displacement of any long-term residents of the motel. We do appreciate that RCD has taken steps to ensure that these residents are housed during the construction phase, but our members would like to see a more concrete plan for the long-term residents to ensure they aren’t displaced as a result of this project.
Vibrancy Score: 4/5
Our members appreciate how RCD’s proposed design aims to transform an underutilized site and establish a greater sense of community by creating an affordable housing project with an active ground floor. Our members usually encourage the use of active ground floor space as it benefits both the residents and the greater community. RCD discussed the possibility of utilizing this space for a non-profit or even public art space, both of which our members support and would encourage RCD to explore. This project also features various amenities for residents including a tot lot and an activated roof space that will connect to one of the two community rooms available to residents. One way we believe RCD could improve the vibrancy of Clara Gardens is to provide more ample outdoor seating opportunities around the tot lot and along El Camino - this will activate the sidewalk and create a more inviting space centered around the active ground floor.
Transportation Score: 4/5
With 93 parking spaces (0.8 spaces per unit) in the form of puzzle lift stackers and a surface parking lot, Clara Gardens brings a refreshing parking ratio to Santa Clara - a city that historically has seen high parking ratios of 1.5 to 2 spaces per unit. RCD has also designed Clara Gardens to include a secure bike locker, which was well received by our members. Having a secure bike locker will allow all residents to have at least one secure place to store their bikes and perform routine maintenance. We hope that in addition to offering a low parking ratio and a secure bike locker, RCD will employ some TDM measures to ensure that residents have access to public transit (especially important since the project is along a major transit corridor) and other mobility options. As Clara Gardens would be along a major transit corridor including VTA SmartPasses would be an excellent residential amenity as VTA offers rates as low as $90 per resident annually. Our members have also sometimes recommended the inclusion of rideshare drop-off or pick-up areas on-site, as these services have been identified as critical for low-income residents who don’t have a car.
Sustainability Score: 2/5
Clara Gardens feature the adaptive reuse of the previous motel site which is a rarely utilized sustainability measure that our members greatly appreciated. However, our members felt that other than this feature, Clara Gardens did not appear to include any other significant sustainability measures that would merit a higher score. We welcome RCD to come back to our PAC with any new sustainability measures it includes. Some of these measures could include the installation and use of electric or smart appliances, rooftop solar, and reclaimed water for irrigation. RCD did indicate that it intends to pursue some form of Green Building Standard, so we hope it will pursue LEED Gold (or the equivalent) or higher.
Intensity/Zoning Score: 5/5
The City of Santa Clara General Plan utilizes regional mixed-use as the “catalyst” to transform low-density sites along major transit corridors such as El Camino and throughout the city. Clara Gardens does exactly this by pushing beyond the three to five stories suggested under the General Plan and proposing a 7-story building. This sets an excellent example of how to transform a previously underused site along El Camino Real. RCD’s design doubles the suggested density in Santa Clara’s general plan from 37-50 units per acre to 107 units per acre by utilizing California’s density bonus law while also activating the ground floor retail space. Our members are delighted to see RCD propose a project that goes above and beyond city zoning requirements in order to bring as many housing units as possible to the El Camino area. We hope this project serves as an example for future affordable projects along this corridor and throughout Santa Clara.
Affordability Score: 5/5
Our members are pleased to see this 100% affordable housing project include such a diverse mixture of units, from studios to 3-bedroom apartments. More importantly, our members were thrilled to see such high levels of affordability including 30 Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) units. This will create a diverse group of residents - including singles as well as families who may be facing housing insecurity. Our members were most excited about the inclusion of on-site permanent supportive housing for residents who are making 20% and below the AMI. As Silicon Valley continues to experience one of the most expensive housing markets in the country, it is vital we are creating housing options for residents of all incomes, including those who need permanent supportive housing. The development further benefits low-income families through on-site amenities including a small playground, multiple community rooms, and the inclusion of rooftop open space.
Legacy Score: 4/5
We were delighted to award RCD a score on legacy due to the fact that RCD is proposing to adaptively reuse and restore the current motel site and transform it as a part of a new affordable housing project. Our members would love to see if RCD could do even more to connect the new development to the historic character of the El Camino neighborhood. Another interesting legacy option our members discussed was exploring a plaque to recognize that one of the sources of funding was through California’s Homekey program. Connecting this site with a brand-new affordable housing program could be an excellent way for RCD and Clara Gardens to weave their own legacy into the project.
Overall Score: 4 out of 5
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