THE SAN JOSE City Council has opened the door for a developer who wants to build thousands of homes on a massive former golf course on the East Side.

In a unanimous decision last week, the council voted to loosen traffic impact policies and pave a path for possible development on large parcels of private recreation lands, including the 114-acre former Pleasant Hills Golf Course.

The obscure policy shift could also promote future housing development on far flung active golf course properties largely in South San Jose.

The council’s actions will also make it easier to build market-rate housing in more areas of the city, and affordable housing projects across much wider swaths than before — all in areas where the general plan already supports housing development.

While city planners and a broad coalition of community members supported changes to allow for more housing where the general plan calls for it, changes to promote the conversion of private recreation lands to housing faced opposition. City planners said that added change, initially pushed by Councilmembers Raul Peralez and Dev Davis, would allow housing development in areas that conflict with the general plan and climate goals.

“We really believe that this discussion has really been driven by interest in one property, and we think there should be a much broader discussion,” Michael Brilliot, the city’s planning director, told the council.

Weighing the options

The council will review options in February or March about what kind of community outreach and planning process would be best in the lead up to a developer’s hope to build on the property. A development group led by Gary Dillabough, Tony Arreola and Mark Lazzarini are eyeing the site for nearly 4,000 residences and about 785,000 square feet of commercial space, according to a preliminary filing with the city.

The Pleasant Hills Golf Course closed in 2004 and is located near the corner of Tully and South White roads. Though it’s in District 8 near the border of District 5, the land is part of the county.

Much of the discussion and debate Tuesday centered on whether the city should lead the planning effort for the broader area — which includes the golf course, Reid Hillview Airport and Eastridge Mall — or if a developer should take the helm.

Some councilmembers, including Mayor-elect Matt Mahan, said developers often complain about the city’s slow timelines, and expressed concern at the prospect of the large golf course remaining vacant for years. He wants to see a process that meets the city’s needs to think holistically for the area and retain public trust, but also please developers who say the city creates too many barriers.

Others, like Mayor Sam Liccardo, showed skepticism about letting a developer commandeer an effort that he said should be public-led.

“We generally don’t like to do piecemeal planning in this city. We like to do more comprehensive planning because it produces better outcomes,” Liccardo said.

Councilmembers settled on reviewing options next year that could let a developer lead the process, with the city possibly choosing the scope of work and picking the consultant.

An eye to affordability

Another issue of contention is whether any future development on the former golf course should include a high percentage of affordable housing. The council decided to place a broad requirement that any development on the golf course must exceed the city’s 15 percent affordable housing minimum, but didn’t set a specific figure.

Liccardo said because building there goes against critical city planning guidelines that took years of public input to develop, the council should require up to 50 percent affordable housing on the site.

“We oughta be demanding a lot if folks are going to essentially decide they’re going to build wherever they want,” Liccardo said. “We have a right as a council to demand much more, and I think our residents, most importantly, demand and expect that we’ll demand more.”

Peralez opposed setting high affordable housing requirements.

“I want to stay away from the specificities of trying to nail down what an (affordable) percentage may be now and actually allow that community conversation to happen, and then a council can decide if indeed it is significant enough,” Peralez said.

Contact Joseph Geha at joseph@sanjosespotlight.com or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

This story originally appeared in San Jose Spotlight.