The last walnut orchard in Los Gatos sits on approximately forty acres along highway 17 at Lark Avenue, harkening back to the agricultural roots of the Silicon Valley. That parcel of land has been the subject of considerable discussion and debate over the last decade as a result of the North 40 General Plan, the name of the project that will transform this plot into a highly controversial mixed-use development.
The History of the Los Gatos North 40
The North 40 Plan has been three decades in the making. The last substantial piece of undeveloped land in Los Gatos, this property has always been of keen interest. The town council appointed a Commercial Specific Planning Council in 1989 to address the future of this property and in 1993, Los Gatos amended their General Plan for development of the parcel. In 1999, there was a proposal to improve the property but after surveying residents and discovering most weren’t in favor, that plan was shelved.
Fast forward to 2008 when London-based real estate developer, Grosvenor, clandestine began discussions with the Yuki family, owners of what is now known at the North 40. The property had been in Tom Yuki’s family since the 1940s and it appears they were finally ready to sell, having reached an agreement with Grosvenor in 2009. Though the County Assessor valued the land at between $12 and $14 million, speculation has it that the land went for around $50 a square foot, or upwards of $70 million.
Since inking this deal, the town planning process began again in earnest, with well over 40 community meetings held to involve Los Gatos residents with the design and planning of the North 40. Grosvenor has teamed with Summerhill Homes and Eden Housing, which will handle the market-rate and senior housing respectively, while Grosvenor remains the master developer and will focus on the commercial space.
North 40 Vision statement
A vision statement was approved by the Los Gatos Town Council and is the driving force behind the property’s development.
“The North 40 reflects the special nature of our hometown. It celebrates our history, agricultural heritage, hillside views and small town character. The North 40 is seamlessly woven into the fabric of our community, complementing other Los Gatos residential and business neighborhoods. It is respectful of precious community resources and offers unique attributes that enrich the quality of life of all of our residents.”
- The North 40 will look and feel like Los Gatos
- The North 40 will embrace hillside views, trees and open space
- The North 40 will address the town’s residential and/or commercial unmet needs
- The North 40 will minimize or mitigate impacts on town infrastructure, schools and other community services
The North 40 Mission
The project’s mission is to fund schools, enhance services to offer more options for residents to work, live and shop within the town’s borders and build millennial and senior housing. It will compliment and not compete with downtown businesses and will embrace the revered Los Gatos small-town feel.
The initial phase of the North 40 will develop the southern portion of the property and will include 320 residential units, 50 of which will be affordable senior housing, 66,000 square feet of commercial space with a market hall as well as improvements both on-site and in the surrounding areas.
Those living in Los Gatos have voiced numerous concerns about the development of this property since the 1990s. But since the entrance of Grosvenor, Summerhill and Eden, which solidified the plan for mixed-use development, neighbors have come out in droves to Planning, Community and Town Hall meetings to express various misgivings about the North 40. When story poles went up earlier this year to indicate the general size and location of Phase 1, even more locals got involved.
- Traffic along the already clogged high 17 corridor as well as along Lark Avenue and Los Gatos Boulevard. There is specific concern about how increased traffic could impact access to Good Samaritan Hospital.
- Increased noise
- The effect on Los Gatos schools as a result of increased population from the additional residences.
- The lack of the small town Los Gatos character
- Health and environmental issues
A movement called Town Not City was organized by resident Tom Thimot to inform and rally residents and taxpayers who oppose the high density project, giving them a more powerful vehicle to voice their apprehensions to the Town Council. Their Facebook page provides the latest updates and information on each step of the project.
On September 1st, the Town Council denied Grosvenor’s plan by a 3-2 vote because the developers didn’t meet the requirements of the Specific Plan where it pertained to housing. Rather than meeting the affordable housing needs, they instead maximized the number of market-rate units, deterring from the North 40 Vision.
This resulted in the developers stating they believe all requirements have been met and their plan cannot be denied for subjective reasons. They feel the Council is rejecting their application for NIMBY issues rather than deterrence from the Specific Plan. There was mention of a lawsuit by Grosvenor attorneys. Next steps are still to be determined but with $17 billion in real estate ventures worldwide and backed by almost 340 years of experience, Grosvenor has the staying power to see this project through.
Realistically, the North 40 will happen, it is just a matter of time. As Yuki family member Ed Morimoto stated during a North 40 hearing, “Many of us live in homes that were only farmland when my family first arrived here 75 years ago. How vibrant would Los Gatos be without [highways] 17 and 85? Roads carved out of our orchard to connect us to our jobs and to bring customers to our businesses. Isn’t it possible–just possible–that thoughtful, selective use of higher density over our traditional sprawling, car-centric approach just might give is a better chance of preserving our quality of life?”
The North 40 will definitely change the face of Los Gatos. It is critical that residents and the Town Council work together to achieve a design that preserves the much-loved small town feel.