Before voting against it Tuesday night, Vice Mayor Althea Polanski called it the worst housing project proposal she’d seen since being on Milpitas City Council for the past decade.
The council voted 3-2, with Councilmembers Armando Gomez and Debbie Giordano dissenting, to reject developer KB Home’s plans to build a 213-unit housing project adjacent to the Union Pacific Railroad line and freight yard east of South Main Street.
The council’s action nixed the Preston Crossing project that would have seen high-density multi-family housing (95 detached and 118 multi-family homes) and on- and off-site improvements at 133, 225 and 227 to 261 Bothelo Lane a private thoroughfare planned at the intersection of Bothelo Avenue and Hammond Way.
The vote backed City of Milpitas planning staff’s recommendation the development that would have involved rezoning heavy industrial lands to residential posed a significant hazard to those residents who may locate there. Other issues involved complaints related to such things as train noise; the housing project’s close proximity to the railroad and freight yard operations and activities (the closest railroad track is 50 feet away); and the lack of connectivity to the greater Milpitas community and connection to South Main Street per the Midtown Specific Plan.
Hazardous materials, according to city reports, are also stored and transported on the railroad property. The railroad, city staff asserted, also communicated plans to expand freight yard operations with taller, brighter lighting to facilitate nighttime operations.
“This is really about land use and public safety,” Milpitas Planning and Neighborhood Services Director Steve McHarris told the council prior to its vote. “The focus here is on land useÉnot so much on the project site design or architecture.”
McHarris also argued the site was inconsistent with the city’s general plan and Midtown Specific Plan that covers a 1,000-acre area in the central part of the city proposed for housing and transit in which this property lies. The planning director added the project posed no real economic benefit for the city.
Soon after, Milpitas Fire Department officials supported planning staff recommendations that the nearly 17-acre site was too close to Union Pacific Railroad operations and a freight yard where hazardous materials like solvents, acids, gasoline and other chemicals may be handled. Fire officials also claimed the area would be difficult to evacuate with access points that could be blocked by freight train crossings near East Curtis Avenue.
Milpitas Fire Marshal Albert Zamora asserted prior train accidents near the KB Home site including one in September 2004 that spilled up to 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel were real threats to the lives of future residents.
“We’re going to subject those families to those potential incidents,” Zamora said.
He added nearby Parc Metro and Parc Place residential developments off East Curtis Avenue were “some distance from the rail yard” and had a buffer.
But others on the council like Gomez said he supported the project as the Midtown plan called for further residential development of South Main Street.
“Unfortunately, for Main Street to thrive we’re going to need some rooftops,” Gomez said.
Likewise, Giordano said she could not support the project as it was designed but could if it were significantly redesigned with detached housing units (offering a lower housing density) and fewer residents as well as install a higher sound wall (20 feet tall) to block train noise and taller trees (50 or 60 feet tall) to block lights from the freight yard.
“I’m open-minded to adding some additional housing stock,” Giordano said.
During the developer’s presentation, KB Home Senior Vice President Ray Panek opposed much that had been stated about the project. He said another similar project Braddock & Logan’s 80 new single-family homes at 31 S. Milpitas Blvd. had been approved by the same council, adjacent to Union Pacific Railroad lines.
Saying he also objected to the consultant on the project’s draft environmental impact report not being present at the meeting to answer questions about it, Panek suggested the report detailed noise and other issues that were in fact consistent with city and federal laws.
Panek further said his company built similar housing projects next to railroad lines in Union City, San Jose and Newark with no problems.
“We do it all over the Bay Area; they make wonderful communities to live in,” Panek said, adding the Milpitas freight yard as determined by the draft environmental report was not noisy. “It’s quiet and there’s not a lot of activity there.”
Prior to the item, Mayor Jose Esteves, Giordano and Gomez who mentioned he is running as a candidate for California State Assembly all announced they’d received campaign contributions from Mike Preston, owner of Preston Pipelines Inc. at 133 Bothelo Ave.
At the meeting, several people wearing fluorescent yellow shirts emblazoned with the Local Union 393 a pipe fitting and plumbing union got up to read letters in support.
“We support the project,” Ray Esparza, a Milpitas resident and union member, said. “I think it would be good for our city.”
Other residents like Rob Means opposed the project due to its location. Means claimed things other than building a nice place for people to live was at work here.
“KB strikes me as a large corporation, corporations have one goal making money,” Means said.
Resident Martha Browne Lamdin said she was also against more high density housing in Milpitas.
“It’s starting to get ugly,” Lamdin said, suggesting increased vehicle traffic was snarling city streets. “What are we going to do with all of these cars?”
Polanski who recalled objecting to the Fairfield Residential multi-family development built on vacant industrial lands west of Interstate 880 and approved by a different council in 2007 objected more strongly to KB Home’s development.
“This has to be the worst housing project I’ve ever seen in my life,” Polanski said, adding she did not want to see families located next to a rail line, freight yard and the future Bay Area Rapid Transit extension. “I don’t care who you are; it’s the wrong place to raise a family; it’s heavy industrial for a reason.”
In the end, Esteves also could not support the project, fearing the location to be a potential health and safety hazard to future residents.
“It really makes me quite uncomfortable,” Esteves said, adding he could not find anything that makes this project justifiable. “For me it’s a strong Ôno,’ (you) might as well stop now and look for another location.”
Contact Ian Bauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-262-2454. Visit us on our social media sites at facebook.com/milpitaspost and twitter.com/milpitaspost.
Original Article: http://www.mercurynews.com/milpitas/ci_24478608/council-rejects-housing-near-milpitas-railroad-yard