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Massive downtown San Jose office campus OK’d along Guadalupe River despite environmental concerns

Despite concerns raised by some environmentalists, a paved parking lot along the banks of the Guadalupe River in downtown San Jose will be supplanted with a massive new office campus where nearly 10,000 people could work.

The project, which is called the Almaden Office Project and was approved unanimously by San Jose City Council Tuesday evening, will be located on a narrow 3.75-acre property on the southwest corner of South Almaden Boulevard and Woz Way, across the river from the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose.

Designed by Boston Properties, the campus is expected to total 2.05 million square feet and feature two 16-story towers with 1.4 million square feet of office space, 37,603 square feet of ground-floor retail, 15 condominium units and three levels of underground parking. Two outdoor paseos will be incorporated in the middle of the campus to provide employees and community members with direct access between South Almaden Boulevard and the Guadalupe River Trail.

Mayor Sam Liccardo called the project an “incredible addition to our downtown skyline” and a “superior alternative to a paved parking lot.”

Some conservationists and environmental advocates, on the other hand, raised concerns that the office towers would be built too close to the Guadalupe River, potentially damaging the trees, soil and wildlife habitats along the river bank. They urged the council to request that the developer shift the towers further away from the river.

“We should not knowingly sacrifice the Guadalupe River and erode environmental protections,” said Dashiell Leeds. “We should instead protect the Guadalupe River for the living entity that it is, for the biodiversity that it sustains and for the community benefits that a healthy ecosystem provides us.”

Due to the site’s uniquely narrow footprint, city officials said pushing the project back any further would not be feasible. The city’s municipal code generally calls for a 100-foot buffer between a project and vegetation near rivers or creeks but it provides city leaders with the flexibility to allow development to encroach on that buffer in certain circumstances, including downtown development, sites of unique geometric shapes and those where the current use already lies in the buffer zone — all characteristics that fit this office campus.

“No doubt we’re having to make exceptions here,” said Councilmember Raul Peralez, “but at the same time, we’re approving something that is an overall benefit to our community.”

South Almaden Offices, a big downtown San Jose office complex that could contain up to 2.6 million square feet, concept.Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates

After hearing community feedback in recent months, Boston Properties made several modifications to the project, including creating a greater buffer between the river and the project than initially planned and reconfiguring the parking garage entrances to reduce traffic near the Guadalupe River Trail.

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