Condo/Townhouse Hybrid Tempts City Lovers in San Jose

Home buyers love the location of this San Jose condominium project: close to public transportation, parks, restaurants, museums and other urban attractions. They’re also sold on the floor plans, which combine elements of condominium flats and townhomes, and the graceful Mediterranean architecture.
By By Susan Bady, Senior Editor, Design | October 31, 2007
Vital Stats

At Keystone, the narrow end of each building faces the sidewalk. "You don't have this large profile toward the street," says architect John Bigot. The roofline is stepped back at its highest point, achieving a more human scale.
Photo credit: Mert Carpenter
The growing number of office jobs in downtown San Jose has sparked a profusion of new mid-rise and high-rise residential buildings. Classic Communities of Palo Alto, Calif., is standing out in the market by offering a low-rise condominium/townhouse product at Keystone, where all units have garages and some have elevators.

Another selling point is Keystone's proximity to all of the city's amenities: parks, a light rail line, restaurants, clubs, museums, shopping, schools, San Jose Medical Center and the HP Pavilion, home of the San Jose Sharks hockey team. And the freeway is just a few minutes away, ideal for buyers who work in the Silicon Valley.

Classic Communities acquired the 1.4-acre site from the San Jose Redevelopment Agency and developed it through a partnership with Morley Bros. of San Jose. "It was our first redevelopment project," says Scott Ward, vice president of Classic Communities. "The city wanted to see the site put to better use."

John Bigot of Bassenian/Lagoni Architects in Newport Beach, Calif., says city planners took a keen interest in the project. "They wanted us to build 3-D models to demonstrate what the massing was going to look like, and the elevations and colors," Bigot says.

Due to the relatively small size of the parcel, Classic considered higher-density building types that would give them a better yield. "Over the last three years, there's been a kind of hybrid building type emerging that combines elements of condominiums and townhomes in different ways, so we explored those alternatives," says Ward.

Compared to its nearest neighbors — an apartment building to the south (50 dwelling units per acre) and a townhouse project to the north (17 DUA) — Keystone is a medium-density project, with 42 units at 27 DUA. In compliance with redevelopment agency requirements, 20 percent of the units are priced below market rate.

Animated Design

When Classic Communities approached Bassenian/Lagoni about a design for the narrow, urban site, Bigot's reaction was, "We wanted to do something fun with some animation to it."

To achieve the required density, the firm designed three- and four-story buildings made up of a series of sixplexes running the length of the site. "We limited the number of four-story units to bring the scale of the building down and make it a little more human," says Bigot.

The garages face each other to form an alley of driveways, while at the opposite ends of the building, entry courtyards lead to front doors. This separates the vehicular traffic from the pedestrian traffic.

The private elevator carries homeowners from street level to the main living areas on the third floor.

"The challenge of going to four stories is where to place the [four-story] unit," he says. In this case, the four-story unit is the largest: the 2,008-square-foot Plan Three. Homeowners enter from the garage or street at ground level and take a private elevator to the main living areas on the third floor (living room, dining room, kitchen and master suite). The fourth floor consists of two secondary bedrooms, a full bathroom and a laundry room. The home can also be reached by a flight of stairs to a second-floor entrance. "You really live on the third and fourth floors," Bigot says. "It feels like a two-story townhome once you're up there."

The buildings' exteriors have a classic Spanish look that's distinctly non-fussy. Arch-top windows and wrought-iron details create visual interest. Recessed into the stucco walls are balconies or patios, perfect for watching the activity in the streets while offering shelter from rain and sun.

Bigot introduced an element often seen in apartment and condo buildings in Los Angeles: exterior stairways. These add character to the outside of the building and the pedestrian courtyards. "When you have to walk up one or two flights of stairs to get to your living area and it's all enclosed, it feels like a fire stair," he says. "With Plan Three, for example, an exterior stair takes you to a door into a stair hall, and an interior flight of stairs leads to the living area. It helps make that journey a little more interesting."

A Plan for Every Buyer

The variety of plan types is designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of buyers. For empty nesters who don't want to climb stairs or for couples with a small child, there's Plan One, which has living areas all on one level. Plan Two is a three-story home with secondary bedrooms and baths on the first and second floors and the master suite on the third floor (living areas are on the second floor). The configuration allows for several scenarios, such as single roommates and couples with older children. Because there are no neighbors above or below the unit, it lives more like a standard townhome, Bigot says.

"Then, of course, the Plan Three takes you all the way to the top two floors and begins to feel like a penthouse unit, because it's the largest," he says. "There's nobody above you, so you're king of the castle." This plan's secondary bedrooms are on the fourth floor, a good location for a home office as well as older kids.

A sloped ceiling adds volume to the living room of Plan Three. The room has access to a covered blacony, ideal for watching activity on the street below.

At Keystone, homes come with either a one-car or two-car garage — unusual for a project of this density, Bigot says. Plan Three has a two-car tandem garage with a generous amount of storage space. Storage areas are included off the living room of Plan One and on the porch of Plan Two.

Classic Communities is including such standard features as double-glazed windows and patio doors, water-saving toilets and shower heads and 90 percent efficient natural gas water heaters. The elevator in Plan Three is also a standard feature. All units are Smart Home pre-wired for data, phone and TV.

Ward points out that one segment of the San Jose market is interested in a smaller condominium in a mid-rise building downtown, while another prefers a larger townhome downtown. Keystone satisfies both.

The quality of the architecture is also contributing to Keystone's success, he says. "These are relatively high-income [buyers] and I think they appreciate that quality," Ward says. "They can feel it and touch it when they tour the models."

The island kitchen of Plan Three comes standard with such upscale finishes as wood floors, granite countertops, natural maple cabinetry and stainless steel appliances.


Vital Stats

Location: San Jose, Calif.

Model: Plan Three

Builder: Classic Communities, Palo Alto, Calif.

Architect: Bassenian/Lagoni Architects, Newport Beach, Calif.

Interior designer: Creative Design Consultants, Costa Mesa, Calif.

Developers: Classic Communities, Palo Alto, Calif., and Morley Bros., San Jose

Model opened: March 2007

Home type: Condominiums and townhomes

Sales to date: 20

Community size: 42 units

Square footage: 1,284 to 2,008 square feet

Price: $574,950 to $759,950

Hard cost: $175 per square foot

Buyer profile: Young professionals; some empty nesters