By Janice Bitters – Silicon Valley Business Journal, October 5, 2017

Nearly a year ago, Cupertino residents found themselves pitted against each other on two opposing sides of a heated debate over what to do with a dying, 1.2 million-square-foot shopping center in the middle of their city. The fight ultimately ended in a stalemate, leaving the mall in limbo — until now.

As of Wednesday night, the mall’s owner, Sand Hill Property Co., says it’s ready to try its luck at redeveloping the nearly empty shopping center again. But this time representatives for the Palo Alto-based developer say they feel bolstered by recent actions by the city and what they see as changing community attitudes toward redevelopment on the site.

Sand Hill wants to study multiple options for the property while a recently completed, city-sponsored, educational speaker series on economic development, retail, housing and transportation is fresh in residents’ minds. The company has refreshed its website to focus on its new effort. Panelists who spoke during the series, experts in development issues, had “confirmed to the community not only that the mall is, in fact, dead, but that the housing shortage is real,” reads an Oct. 4 letter from Sand Hill to Cupertino City Manager David Brant. “And Cupertino, along with some other cities in the region, has not done and is not doing enough to address it.”

The developer’s letter asks for city officials to begin considering redevelopment options on the site again, starting by creating a specific plan for the property that explores at least four options for the old mall.

Among the options that Sand Hill is asking to be studied is its original, albeit controversial, vision for the 58-acre property at 10123 N. Wolfe Road: A mixed-use village called the Hills at Vallco with up to 2 million square feet of office space alongside 625,000 square feet of retail and 800 residential units. Above it all would sit a 30-acre green roof — a place making feature for the development.

Some neighbors, wary of traffic impacts, fought back against that idea initially, adding a ballot measure for residents to vote on at the polls last year that would have limited development on the site. Sand Hill responded in-kind with its own ballot measure that, if it had passed, would have approved its plans for the mall.

Both measures failed, and the planning process for the site was halted.

New options

But Sand Hill Managing Director Reed Moulds said this time he also wants to look at options the company hadn’t considered in the past that would have put a greater emphasis on housing. One of the group’s suggestions would fill the site primarily with housing, while another would essentially balance the amount of space dedicated to each use. The company is also required by law to study the impacts of doing nothing to the property.

Sand Hill’s original vision for the site complied with the rules in the general plan, Moulds said in an interview this week. The other alternatives that the company has proposed studying would likely need to be approved through a new specific plan and separate environmental review process, he acknowledged.

For instance, the general plan today allows for about 35 residential units to the acre on the site, but after the speaker series, held in four parts between July 12 and Sept. 28, he thinks there may be political and social will in the community to increase that density.

“We believe Vallco is the city’s, and indeed the West Valley’s, greatest opportunity to have a focused and meaningful positive impact on the housing and affordability crisis that has gone missing to date,” he said.

Meanwhile, the amount of required retail on the site may need to come down, he added.

“What we really need to take a hard look at is the retail requirement and … whether we need 600,000 square feet of retail no matter what,” Moulds said. “If that is a standard that we need to solve for, then the other uses will have to support that, and that is somewhat why the Hills was created the way it was.”

In terms of exact square feet or number of units, Moulds says he doesn’t have that information yet, but hopes to form those before the end of the year with the help of the city.

He did note that, as a baseline, whatever rises on the site would include a mix of all the uses the company has considered for the site so far.

“I think this is a mixed-use town center, so none of the uses can ever go away,” he said. “We need all three uses, so there has to be some office, there has to be some housing, there has to be some retail. The right amounts I think we need to study and have expert input.”