The former meat packing plant and dry/cold storage facility at the intersection of Sunol and San Fernando streets had been an eyesore in central San Jose, Calif., for years. But Joe Head, president and CEO of Palo Alto, Calif.–based SummerHill Homes, saw beauty in the 5.86 acre lot. It was a mere two-minute walk to the nearest light-rail station, four minutes to the Caltrain commuter rail system, and just 15 minutes on foot to downtown restaurants and hotels.
In short, it was the perfect nesting spot for city folk craving easy commutes and proximity to the urban core. And as part of the city's Midtown Specific Plan—an initiative formulated to give this blighted stretch west of downtown a new lease on life—the area was poised for a renaissance. Rental apartments were already under construction next to the Caltrain station, and several other projects were on the boards, including 300 condos by KB Home.
With this flurry of development, though, came a big picture conundrum. The plant was sandwiched between some vintage, low-lying cottages to the west and the impending multifamily structures to the east. So it was incumbent on the architecture to ease the transition from short to tall, old to new.
Georgetown, a smart enclave of two-story townhomes, each with its own tuck-under garage, does just that. Designed by Irvine, Calif.–based MVE & Partners, the 94 residences feature a nice helping of East Coast–style colonial brick and shutters, but they're punched up with fresh California ingredients such as deep overhangs, white window casings, and alternating stucco façades.
The homes drew immediate attention for their good looks, but also scored extra lifestyle points with buyers, many of whom were graduating from apartments. “We found that people who want to live in urban settings want an easy commute, but they also like the singularity of a private garage and a front door to the outside,” says Head. Add to that island kitchens and generous French doors spilling onto front patios, and many of the units feel almost like single-family homes.
Another linchpin in the project's success is that SummerHill's streetscape commitment didn't stop at the lot line. Recognizing that property values are affected by what lies next door, the builder reached into its own pockets to spiff up five adjacent homes and two businesses with new landscaping, fresh paint, and updated signage. The effort was warmly welcomed by neighbors, many of whom were elderly and unable to make improvements on their own.
Project: Georgetown, San Jose, Calif.; Size: 1,463 to 1,859 square feet; Site: 5.86 acres (16 du/ac); Price: high $400s to mid-$500s; Builder: SummerHill Homes, Palo Alto, Calif.; Architect: MVE & Partners, Irvine, Calif.; Landscape designer: Isaacson, Wood & Associates, San Jose; Interior designer: Design Line Interiors, San Diego