News & Press: CHAPTER NEWS

Advocacy & Design: An Update on the SJ Downtown Design Committee

Thursday, July 7, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: April Becerra

San Jose Downtown Association’s - Downtown Design Committee

By Steven M. Cox, AIA, Downtown Design Committee Chair


In 2012 the San Jose Downtown Association (SJDA) formed the Downtown Design Committee (DDC) with the assistance of SJDA Board Member and former AIASCV Executive Director Kent Mather, FAIA who became the first committee chairperson.  Initially, Scott Knies, the Executive Director of SJDA, was seeking professional design expertise from the AIA in the screening of potential recipients of SJDA Golden Nail Design Awards.


In early 2012 the San Jose Redevelopment Agency (SJRDA) was dissolved as a result of the California State Legislature actions to deal with budget deficits.  Up to this time the SJRDA controlled all design review of projects in the San Jose Downtown Core.  The existing City of San Jose Planning Department had little or no experience in reviewing large scale urban projects in the Downtown Core.   The result of the closing of the SJRDA meant there was a void in the entitlement process with regard to design review within the city.


During this time the SJDA approached the City of San Jose Department of Planning, Building, and Code Enforcement (PBCE) to begin discussions seeking to have the SJDA recognized as a body similar to a Homeowners Association or a Neighborhood Group for the purpose of providing community input into the project entitlement review process.  Through these discussions the SJDA became recognized by the PBCE as a community group with a voice in the entitlement of downtown projects.


As a result of all the above, in late 2012 the role of the Downtown Design Committee became focused into three primary areas:


1. “Golden Nail Design Awards” for the purpose of awarding projects using the following criteria:

  • “Jim Fox Award” given in honor of Jim Fox, a local downtown developer for excellence in urbanism, architectural and innovative downtown design solutions contributing to the character of Downtown San Jose.
  • “Beautification” for outstanding contributions to the beautification of Downtown San Jose.
  • “Elements of Distinction” recognizes a particular element of a building or site that adds to the character of Downtown San Jose.

2. Downtown Design Review for the purpose of providing architectural and urban design insight to the development team and City on Downtown development proposals.


3. Design Review Process Improvement for the purpose of reforming the current design review though lobbying efforts with city staff and senior level management.


In 2013 the DDC began to work in these three areas.  As the downtown housing market continued to improve, the committees time with the review of Downtown projects began to increase.  Kent Mather, FAIA continued to chair the committee through 2013 and in 2014 passed the gavel to Steve Cox, AIA.  Starting with the blue glass high-rise located at One South Market Street in 2013 and through June 2016 more than 15 large scale high rise housing projects have been reviewed with comments being sent to city staff for inclusion in the entitlement review process.

So far in 2016, three exciting high-rise housing projects have been reviewed:

  • KT Urban proposed a 24-story project with 708 residential units and 20,000 sf of retail located on the old Greyhound Depot site.
  • Trammell Crow proposed a 14-story project with 325 residential units and 850,000 sf of commercial located adjacent to the old Water Company Building in the Diridon Station Area along West Santa Clara Street.
  • Sheraton Hotel proposed to expand the old historic Montgomery Hotel with a 21-story addition of 280 guest rooms.

The committee efforts to provide input into the city’s internal design review process have been fruitful.  The PBCE recently added senior staff with urban design experience.

Downtown San Jose is a thriving and expanding urban environment.  Uncompromising urban design is an investment in our community's long-term economic and cultural health. This is especially critical in the downtown area where higher densities and mixed uses are already established. Making downtown more "walkable" means taking great care about how people interact with the built environment.

Over the years several members of the AIASCV Chapter have volunteered to help in this effort. This year they include Jeff Current, AIA, Thang Do, AIA, Steve Krapek, AIA.  If you have questions or are interested in participating in this SJDA committee, please contact Steve Cox at .

Steven M. Cox, AIA is past president of AIASCV, principal of HPC Architecture, and the current chairperson of the SJDA Downtown Design Committee.