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Friday, May 3, 2019

Irvine Co. Housing Development in Sunnyvale

New Housing Development in Sunnyvale

Former AMD Headquarters acquired by Irvine Corporation
(click image to enlarge)
The Irvine Co. is planning to build a large (for Sunnyvale) 1,051 unit housing development on the 35 acre site of the former AMD headquarters.  That required a change of zoning from industrial to residential (ITR).

Link to this page for sharing:

Future AMD site as planned by the Irvine Corporation
It is a mildly controversial project and while I agree with many of those who wanted changes I voted for it anyway.  This is to explain why.

The issue came before the Sunnyvale City Council on Tuesday, April 23, 2019 as item number 4 on the agenda.  The agenda with links to documentation is here:

Item #4 is here:

The visual depictions of what is planned are from Attachment 27 "Presentation to Council" on that above link.  Other pictures as shown in associated links.
Stewart Drive Now

Future Stewart Drive with 5-story apartments
Existing trees along Stewart Dr. will be kept
Several Redwood trees will be moved (they can do that!)
The project is to "construct 1,051 residential units, including 944 units in three to five-story apartment buildings and 107 units in three-story town-home style buildings. The unit count includes 45 apartment units for very low-income households and 13 below market rate town-home units. Public improvements include the dedication of a 6.5-acre public park, extension of Indian Wells Avenue to the east to connect with the Duane Avenue/Stewart Drive" (from introduction on Item 4).

3 story Town-homes facing new 6.5 acre park
I first heard about this project about 2 years ago (2017).  Then City Manager Deanna Santana and Trudy Ryan (head of the planning dept.) wanted to inform the council members of the project and some of the concerns they had.

Projected low rise 3-story apartments on Stewart Ave.
One of the concerns was simply the appearance.  It was flat and imposing.  I had seen a building just like it in Santa Clara and really did not want that to be in Sunnyvale for the next 50 years or more.

Indian Wells Ave. (lower left) goes nowhere - it is an access road to residential buildings.
It will be extended to E. Duane Ave. on the upper right in the picture.
This should help traffic flow to Lawrence Expressway.
I gather that the Irvine Corp. made a mistake and paid too much for the AMD land not realizing Sunnyvale's park dedication requirement was higher than that of some neighboring cities.  In order to make it work with the higher than planned cost for parks they needed to put in more units than they had originally planned and were doing everything they could to make it fit.

If they couldn't make it "pencil out" financially as a residential development they would just leave it as a commercial office development - perhaps something like the picture below:
A development in Houston.  This can happen here!
If you think the project shown above would not happen here, think again.  Santa Clara had a proposal for a 50-story office building with a 35-story apartment building and several other smaller ones.  The height has since been scaled down in Santa Clara but the amount of office space is the same.  They traded away open space (park land) to lower the height.  C.f.

50-Story building in Brooklyn
Might have been one in Santa Clara
Office rents in Sunnyvale have exploded recently as has the cost of land ($10M/acre last year but it might be higher now) and with it the necessity for more height and density to pay for the land.

If the AMD site stayed commercial, we would not get the residences nor the park nor would Indian Wells Ave. provide an alternative route to Lawrence Expressway.  We would get much more traffic because the office buildings would be higher and more densely packed than the existing AMD building.
Drawn in 1900 - not too far from reality.
In order to make it work and still be attractive, Sunnyvale planning staff worked a lot with the Irvine Co. to find variances that could make it financially viable and still be an attractive addition to Sunnyvale.  I think they did a very good job, all things considered.

The Irvine Co. has another apt. complex (Cherry Orchard Apartments) in Sunnyvale at 250 W El Camino Real, Sunnyvale, CA 94087 (Mathilda and El Camino - behind "Trader Joe's") which isn't too far off from what they are planning for the AMD site.

Click image to enlarge
In addition they are hiring local union labor at good wages instead of trying to cut corners with non-union labor bused in from Southern California or Arizona.

There will be some BMR (Below Market Rate) housing for "Very Low Income" (VLI) households.  Almost no one builds for VLI households.  BMR housing is subsidized by rents from the market rate apartments.  Builders would much rather build BMR housing units for "moderate income" renters with incomes up to 120% of area median income.  That results in more BMR units but with less subsidy per unit.  Some builders are afraid that the VLI tenants cause problems.

Also in my mind at the time was the progress of California Senate Bill SB-50 (and others) through various committees.  There is currently a narrative that Silicon Valley cities like Sunnyvale don't mind allowing in new commercial buildings (and jobs) but balk at allowing new housing thus forcing housing further and further out causing more traffic.  I do not wish to feed that narrative.
More on SB-50 here:

Regardless of whether that is an accurate narrative, the bills that could become laws basically allow builders pretty much free rein in an attempt to foster as much residential building as possible.  I would much rather have the housing we will get with the Irvine Co. project than what SB-50 would force upon us.
207 Boylston, Seattle.  Coming soon to a lot near you if SB-50 passes.
We will get worse traffic no matter what so we'd better learn to deal with it.  If you are a homeowner the increased density will make your home worth more so you can sell out for even more and leave for a less crazy place - if there are any.  This "build more to make it cheaper" nonsense is everywhere - I always ask why, then, are Hong Kong and Lower Manhattan the most expensive areas in the world.  I never get a real answer.

The Irvine proposal is the best we can ask for.  I do not regret voting for it.