After Years of Planning Santa Clara’s Urban Farm ‘Agrihood’ is Set to Break Ground by 2020

One of Santa Clara’s biggest and most unique affordable housing projects in the pipeline promises to offer a blend of urban living and farm life.

The City Council last week granted final approvals to a housing project on a six-acre plot of land across the street from Westfield Valley Fair mall. The project, known as the “Agrihood,” will to provide 361 new homes, 181 of which will be below market rate. Of these 181 homes, 160 will be set aside for low-income seniors. The project will additionally feature a 1.7-acre urban farm and community retail and open space.

The Agrihood, which is on track to break ground by next year, consists of a partnership among real estate firm The Core Companies, the nonprofit California Native Garden Foundation and the city of Santa Clara. But it came to fruition in no small part because of its biggest champion, local business owner and activist Kirk Vartan.

“We wanted to make a vibrant place,” Vartan said. “Somewhere where people can engage. A place to go for people to unwind, meander, walkable and be human.”

Well over a decade ago, the six-acres Agrihood site was owned by the University of California for agricultural research. Santa Clara bought the land from the UC system in 2005 with the intent of rezoning it for a private single-family home and below-market-rate senior housing project. But a group of residents lobbied to preserve at least part of the plot for farmland. Vartan led the movement to stop the housing project, introducing a referendum to voters. “We wanted to keep the land public,” he explained.

Voters rejected the referendum in 2008, but by 2012 the state had dissolved much of its affordable housing funding, which halted the project anyway. That’s when Vartan stepped in with more than $100,000 of his own money to propose a new project that would combine both agricultural and residential use.

“With literally thousands of community activists involved, we created an empowered community voice,” Vartan recounted. “That voice was silenced by developer money—talking about affordable senior housing that never got built.”

“I wanted to empower the community to create a vision for this site that represented the agricultural roots of the area,” he continued. “I knew the city wasn’t going to spend any funds to explore any of this, so I funded it.”

Vartan dubbed his vision the Win-6, a community with a raised park along Interstate 280, and presented it to the Santa Clara City Council in 2015. Win-6 was soon picked up by construction and real estate firm The Core Companies, which negotiated with the city of Santa Clara to mitigate construction logistics and environmental impact.

Vartan and Core caught the attention of a new city council and freshman Mayor Lisa Gillmor, who agreed to study the proposal, which ultimately led to last week’s vote.

The final approved proposal includes Vartan’s original vision of low-income senior living, a community farm open to the public, vertical gardens, an open-air market, open green community space and potential for commercial development.

“Santa Clara’s seniors have already waited more than a decade for housing at this site,” said Vince Cantore, a senior development manager with The Core Companies. “An available below-market home for a senior can be the differentiator between a comfortable, safe environment in which to spend one’s golden years, or an extended period of financial stress and uncertainty.”

But this project isn’t just for seniors. Vartan wants it to serve as a public place where people of all stripes can walk, shop and live in Agrihood.

“It’s across the street from Valley Fair and Santana Row, which is great for developers and people,” Vartan said. “We’ve advanced so much technologically, but our land use needs to advance as well.”

The project will cost about $260 million, with about $60 million coming from Measure A, a $950 million bond measure voters passed in 2016 to subsidize affordable housing.

“We all need to be inspired by development if we’re going to embrace the needed change in the [Silicon] Valley,” Vartan said. “Mixed-use, mixed-income and intergenerational communities allow us all to thrive.”

8 Comments

  1. Great news a place for senior citizens to grow some medical marijuana. Can we please use recycled water to water the plants? Thanks you Vartan for contributing 0.10% to the project.

  2. > “We wanted to make a vibrant place,” Vartan said.

    Fake urban farming for clueless millennials.

    Sounds just like Marie Antoinette’s fake farm:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hameau_de_la_Reine

    “The Hamlet was part of Marie Antoinette’s estate, and she enjoyed dressing as a young shepherdess or milkmaid and acting like a peasant, while surrounded by the comforts of a royal lifestyle. This unintentional mockery of the economically depressed French peasants helped build the resentment towards the monarchy among the French people, eventually leading to the French Revolution.”

      • Normally, I do not respond to ‘name-calling’ cretins, but I will make an exception here.

        You ‘beat-up’ on the ‘Bubble’ due to his opinion of your project. Well, boo-hoo to you.

        Let’s look at the following statement;

        “We all need to be inspired by development if we’re going to embrace the needed change in the [Silicon] Valley,” Vartan said.

        I am not ‘inspired’ by this ‘hype’ or even your contribution to continue a process of destruction of the agricultural history of Santa Clara County.

        I support absolutely “No more” residential / mixed-use projects.

        The priceless and irreplaceable ‘land’ for this development was previously used for agricultural purposes and should remain so in perpetuity.

        “Mixed-use, mixed-income and intergenerational communities allow us all to thrive.”

        This statement is your opinion. I certainly do not need any of the aforementioned social engineering crap listed in this ‘stinking article’ to “thrive.” I actually ‘thrive’ quite well in spacious, gentrified environments devoid of ‘mixed-use’ development projects espoused by you.

        And…I am not a coward and I do have a name.

        David S. Wall

        • Well said David. Personally, tired of seeing our agricultural history being erased. It’s no longer the town I grew up in, it’s no longer the orchards I grew up in flanking Evergreen Valley College. Kvartans proposal here is nothing more than a shallow facade of nostalgia, like a 50’s cafe.

          When I was 12, 50’s cafe’s were kind of cool, but as I got older I recognized them for what they are. Some MBA’s attempt to cash in on somebody else’s culture, a form of cultural appropriation. Slap up some pictures of James Dean, Elvis, put in a jukebox, next thing you have is Johnny Rockets. Kvartans project is nothing more than that, a way for the politically connected to get jobs for their buddies turning the culture I grew up with into a novelty.

  3. Hopefully the influx of new residents will improve the clientele at the existing Safeway and CVS next to the mall, which is pretty scary at present.

  4. California Native Garden Foundation, AKA (Alrie) Middlebrook Gardens, is a definition of hyperbole! No “expert”!

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