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Shopping for a home in the Bay Area? Head to the mall

Marisa Kendall, The Mercury News on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Developers LBG Real Estate Companies and Aviva Investors bought the mall last summer and got busy on a turnaround. They have rezoned the property to allow for up to nearly 10,000 units of housing, which they plan to build in the form of condos and rental apartments on what is now Hilltop's asphalt ocean of about 6,000 largely unused parking spaces.

The development, which will be renamed Hilltop by the Bay, also will include new retail tenants such as restaurants, a movie theater and a grocery store.

"We're envisioning really a major, truly mixed-use, walkable community here," said Doug Beiswenger, managing partner of LBG Real Estate Companies.

In Richmond, where many tenants spend more than the recommended 30 percent of their income on rent and there hasn't been substantial new housing built in about 15 years, construction of a new residential community is cause to celebrate, said Mayor Tom Butt.

"We need housing, and we need a lot of it," he said. "We need it as quickly as possible. And anything like this that is planned or in the pipeline is a good sign."

In Cupertino, developers are attempting to give mostly vacant mall Vallco a similar makeover. In 2016 voters rejected Sand Hill Property Company's first attempt to build offices and housing on the site, worried the project would flood the city with too many new workers and residents. Now the city, with feedback from the community, is working with the developer on a new proposal, said Cupertino Mayor Darcy Paul. He's hoping for a combination of retail and residential development, and maybe a tech startup incubator, with a floor plan that resembles that of Apple's new spaceship campus.

"I'd love to see that kind of openness and space, that kind of true connection to our ecology," Paul said.

Long before the region was hit with its current housing crisis, Santana Row was an early pioneer of the residential and retail mixed development, opening its row of ritzy shops in 2002, and adding homes in 2005, 2011 and 2014. The development, which replaced an old strip mall, includes 615 rental apartments and 219 privately owned condos. The apartments are 96 percent occupied, said Jan Sweetnam, chief operating officer for the western region of Federal Realty, Santana Row's developer. And the community -- Sweetnam and his colleagues avoid the four-letter-word "mall" -- is home to young tech employees, empty-nesters and out-of-town executives who use the space when they travel to Silicon Valley for business, he said.

John French, who has rented an apartment on Santana Row for nearly five years, loves living there. He rents a two-bedroom apartment above trendy Chinese restaurant and bar Sino, paying $3,272 a month. For nightlife or shopping, French walks downstairs. He always knows when the shops are having sales, and his "resident card" gives him 10-15 percent off in most places. For groceries, he walks to Safeway, pulling a wagon to carry his purchases.

"Sometimes my fiance and I go downstairs, grab a Pinkberry ... grab our laptops and just watch the people," said the 56-year-old, who manages a Jaguar Land Rover dealership. "It's pretty cool."

(c)2018 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

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