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Split city council places future of Vallco Mall in developer’s hands

The Cupertino City Council voted Wednesday night to approve a potential plan for the revival of Vallco Mall, a nearly 50-year-old property left vacant and neglected during the last two decades.

Developer Sand Hill Property Company, which owns Vallco Mall, can now decide between its own plan for “Vallco Town Center,” modeled under affordable housing regulations in California’s Senate Bill 35, or the plan formulated by the city and community, called the Specific Plan.

The two plans vary in the number of housing units, commercial property space and regulations. The city plan offers the option of 2,923 residential units, while the SB 35 plan contains 2,402 residential units with the requirement that 50 percent be affordable. The city plan also has stipulations for affordable housing, and both allow for about 2 million square feet of office and commercial space.

The City Council began the process nearly a year ago of creating the Specific Plan to ensure community input in the Vallco project, according to Sand Hill managing director Reed Moulds.

City Council members and the mayor were split over approving two versions of the Specific Plan, which culminated after 14 hours of discussion, public comment and back-and-forths between two meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Ultimately, Mayor Darcy Paul and Councilman Steven Scharf voted against the housing-dense Specific Plan while Councilmembers Savita Vaidhyanathan, Barry Chang and Rod Sinks voted in support.

Vallco Mall was built in the 1970s and is located about 1 mile south of the Apple campus. Despite boasting prime real estate, it suffered in the last two decades as big-name department stores shut their doors.

The complex currently houses a bowling alley, an ice rink, a fitness club and two restaurants, and Sand Hill will decide on a case-by-case basis which businesses will be integrated into the new plan.

Sand Hill has not yet announced which plan it will choose, but Moulds said at the meeting on Tuesday that he prefers a plan backed by enthusiastic community support.

Sand Hill Properties submitted its own plan for SB-35 approval on March 27. The 180-day processing deadline ends this week, according to company spokesman Matt Larson, and the company can begin construction and demolition as soon as next week.

Unlike the city’s plan, the plan based on SB 35 does not require any community benefits, such as donations to Cupertino Unified School District or open space regulations. Moulds said, however, that the company plans to give the school district a $14.25 million cash gift and educational infrastructure at the Vallco Town Center.

The SB 35 plan is also immune to a referendum, according to Larson, while the city-approved plan could be overturned. Better Cupertino, a political action committee that has strongly opposed the Specific Plan, began collecting signatures this morning for a referendum.

The group says it supports below-market-rate, or BMR, and inclusionary housing, which both plans feature heavily, but called Vallco Town Center an oversized, “office-heavy” project.

The group said in a statement Thursday:

“VTC is not a housing project, not an affordable housing project, but an office-heavy project, which uses BMR units to sugarcoat its huge office park.”

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