The County of Santa Clara

Commission Item
Approved as Amended
Sep 28, 2016 6:00 PM

Consider Master Plan and Zoning Amendment referral from the City of Santa Clara for California's Great America, located at 1 Great America Parkway, to change the zoning of the property from Thoroughfare Commercial (CT), to Planned Development (PD) for a 20-year Master Plan, within the Airport Influence Area (AIA) of San Jose International Airport (SJC). (City of Santa Clara File No. PLN2014-10851)


Department:Department of Planning and DevelopmentSponsors:

Multiple Recommendations

Possible action:
a. Find the rezoning and Master Plan request consistent with the Airport Land Use Commission (ALUC) noise, height and safety policies for San Jose, as defined in the SJC Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP).
b. Find the rezoning and Master Plan request inconsistent with the ALUC noise, height and safety policies for San Jose, as defined in the SJC CLUP.



The subject project is a request from the City of Santa Clara to rezone a 112-acre site and set forth a 20-year Master Plan for California’s Great America.  The rezoning would change the zoning of the site from Thoroughfare Commercial (CT) to Planned Development (PD). The PD rezoning allows the City of Santa Clara to enact specific development standards for the amusement park that would be fulfilled throughout the 20-year Master Plan.  As can be seen in the figure entitled “Great America Site within SJC AIA”, the Subject site is located within the airport influence area (AIA) of San Jose International Airport. 

One of the Santa Clara County ALUC's main charters is to develop Comprehensive Land Use Plans (CLUPs), for areas surrounding Airports in the County. The purpose of these plans is to provide policies for orderly growth in areas surrounding each Airport. These plans are intended to minimize the public's exposure to excessive noise and safety hazards.

Pursuant to State Law, Rezoning applications proposed within the AIA of a public use airport must be referred to the ALUC for a consistency determination with the safety, height and noise policies in the appropriate CLUP. The Master Plan can also be considered a type of Specific Plan, and thus is also a required referral to the ALUC.

In October 2011, the Santa Clara County ALUC adopted an Airport-Specific CLUPs for San Jose International Airport.  The policies contained in that CLUP will be used to evaluate the subject Rezoning application.

Consistency with the San Jose International Land Use Plan (CLUP).


Safety Policies:

Safety of people on the ground and in the air and the protection of property from airport-related hazards are among the responsibilities of the Airport Land Use Commission. The 2002 Caltrans Handbook presents guidelines for the establishment of airport safety areas in addition to those established by the FAA.

Airport safety zones are established to minimize the number of people exposed to potential aircraft accidents in the vicinity of the Airport by imposing density and use limitations within these zones.  The airport safety zones are established for Runways 32R-14L and 32L-14R at the Airport.  The safety zones are related to runway length and expected use.

The subject site lies immediately north of the San Jose International Airport.  As can be seen in Attachment 1, the site is located outside of the outer safety zone.  Although aviation traffic would be on an angle of approach or decent just east of the site, there would be minimal flight tracks directly over the subject site.   Therefore, none of the safety policies contained within the SJC CLUP apply to the rezoning and Master Plan.

FAA FAR Part 77 Surfaces:

Airport vicinity height limitations are required to protect the public safety, health, and welfare by ensuring that aircraft can safely fly in the airspace around an airport. This protects both those in the aircraft and those on the ground who could be injured in the event of an accident. In addition, height limitations are required to protect the operational capability of airports, thus preserving an important part of National and State aviation transportation systems.

Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) Part 77, Objects Affecting Navigable Airspace, establishes imaginary surfaces for airports and runways as a means to identify objects that are obstructions to air navigation. Each surface is defined as a slope ratio or at a certain altitude above the Airport elevation.  The ALUC uses the surfaces as height restriction boundaries.

The elevation of the site above mean sea level (AMSL) lies between 20 and 30 feet. The current Part 77 surfaces map identifies that the proposed project site is located beneath the outer approach surface between 239 and 312 MSL, as can be seen on Attachment 2.

The plans indicate that the tallest portion of any structure would be 250 feet above grade. The development regulations for the PD rezoning indicate the following:

“The maximum height of buildings, structures, rides and attractions shall be 250 feet (AGL), or the lesser height as defined by airspace requirements of the San Jose Mineta International Airport as defined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).”

As can be seen in the cross section attachment, there are future rides proposed in zone 2 of the amusement park Master Plan up to a maximum height of 250 feet above grade.  The Part 77 surfaces cross the site at an angle, going from approximately 239 AMSL at the south end of the site, to 312 at the north end of the site, going away from the airport.  Although the footprint of the tallest conceptual ride would be located beneath approximately 270 MSL, the height restriction is a horizontal 250 - foot limit.  Therefore, if a 250-foot tall structure were proposed at the south end of the amusement park, it could exceed the Part 77 surfaces, assuming a 25- foot AMSL grade elevation (250 + 25 = 275 AMSL).

Any future structures potentially penetrating the Part 77 surfaces would have to be reviewed by the FAA and receive a no hazard determination.  The development standards in the PD rezoning include “or the lesser height as defined by airspace requirements of the San Jose Mineta International Airport as defined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)”. 

Policy H-1 of the SJC CLUP states “Any structure or object that penetrates the Federal Aviation Regulations Part 77, Objects Affecting Navigable Airspace, (FAR Part 77) surfaces as illustrated in Figure 6, is presumed to be a hazard to air navigation and will be considered an incompatible land use, except in the following circumstance. If the structure or object is above the FAR Part 77 surface, the proponent may submit the project data to the FAA for evaluation and air navigation hazard determination, in which case the FAA’s determination shall prevail.

According to policy H-1, if the Applicant applies for and receives a no hazard determination, the project would be consistent with the SJC CLUP height policies.  However, as a Master Plan document to be implemented over 20 years, the Applicant has not yet applied for such a determination. 

Therefore, it is within the judgment of the ALUC to find the proposed PD Rezoning and Master Plan consistent with the CLUP height policies, subject to future FAA determinations of the height of structures, or find the project inconsistent, based on a portion of the project site being allowed to theoretically penetrate the Part 77 surfaces. 

Noise Policies:

The San Jose International Airport CLUP uses CNEL noise contours as a tool for depicting noise disruption from aviation activity, due to the penalty added during nighttime activities where aviation noise disruption could affect people the most.  The SJC CLUP uses 65, 70 and 75 decibel CNEL noise contours and includes different noise mitigation based on the type of use exposed to aviation noise.


Half of the subject site lies within the 60 CNEL noise contour and half the site lies within the 65 CNEL noise contour for San Jose International Airport (See Attachment 3).  For purposes of ALUC consistency review, the proposed project type is not expressly written in either the CLUP noise policies, or Table 4-1.  However, given the type and intensity of use, the Great America amusement park use is most closely related to “Sports arena, outdoor spectator sports, parking”, as defined in the Land Use Compatibility Chart (Table 4-1).

Table 4-1 states that these uses within the 60 and 65 dBA CNEL Noise Contour should are “Generally Acceptable”, which seems appropriate for the type of active, transient uses in an amusement park.  Perhaps noise receptors would be even less susceptible to noise given how much noise is generated on the site, by rides and attendees.  Therefore, staff finds that noise mitigations are not required pursuant to the CLUP noise policies under this land use category. 

However, CLUP Noise Policy N-2 states: "Within the 65 CNEL noise contour at San Jose International Airport, the ALUC shall also consider single event noise exposure levels, (SENEL), in addition to the Community Noise Equivalent Level (CNEL), when determining the suitability of new land uses".

There will be temporary single-event noise disruptions experienced from take-off and landings by the occupants of the amusement park given the close proximity to the Airport

However, the single-event noise experienced by those using the site will only cause temporary disruptions, but is not significant enough to pose a public health or safety hazard.

Overall, the noise impacts would generally be acceptable in this particular case, because the noise generated from aviation activity would be temporary in nature and likely not as loud as noise generated from the site.

Avigation Easement:

Avigation Easements provide notice to future owners and occupants of buildings that there will be aviation activity around them.  Avigation Easements are important disclosures both for the public and Airfield operators to ensure aviation activity is taken into consideration.

SJC CLUP policy G-5 states: Where legally allowed, dedication of an avigation easement to the City of San Jose on behalf of San Jose International Airport shall be required to be offered as a condition of approval on all projects located within an Airport Influence Area, other than reconstruction projects as defined in paragraph 4.3.7 of the CLUP. All such easements shall be similar to that shown as Exhibit 1 in Appendix A of the SJC CLUP. 

An avigation easement for the entire site is feasible.  Therefore, staff recommends that a condition of the ALUC determination be the following:

·        Within three months of the final action to approve the Rezoning and Master Plan, dedication of an avigation easement to the City of San Jose on behalf of San Jose International Airport shall be required.


Following the determination of consistency with the ALUC CLUP, the ALUC recommendations will be forwarded to the City of San Jose Planning Staff to be included in Planning Commission and City Council actions. 

If the project is found inconsistent with the SJC CLUP, the City may perform and Overrule of the ALUC by obtaining a 2/3 vote of the City Council.


Meeting History

Sep 28, 2016 6:00 PM  Airport Land Use Commission Regular Meeting

Mr. Connolly reported that the Rezoning Amendment portion of the project permits the City of Santa Clara to incorporate the development standards into the zoning for California's Great America amusement park, and plan for new rides, attractions, and related uses. He further reported that the Master Plan sets the uses for the next 20 years. Mr. Connolly noted that the site location is within the AIA of SJC.

Regarding safety, Mr. Connolly reported that the site lies immediately north of SJC while remaining outside of all safety zones, and that no safety policies contained within the SJC CLUP apply to this referral.

Regarding height, Mr. Connolly reported that the elevation of the site varies and that the plans incorporate a 250-foot height limit. He further reported that language in the Master Plan does not prevent future structures from penetrating height restrictions defined by the Federal Aviation Administration regardless of the 250-foot restriction included in the plan. Mr. Connolly further clarified that a structure could be allowed to penetrate the 250 foot height limit because of site elevation Above Mean Sea Level.

Regarding noise, Mr. Connolly reported that both the 60 and 65 decibel Community Noise Equivalent Level (CNEL) noise contours cross the site and are defined as generally acceptable in the SJC CLUP. He further noted the occurrence of temporary single-event noise disruptions without an adverse impact on people at ground level, and advised that staff finds the CNEL noise contours as generally acceptable and consistent with noise policies.

Mr. Connolly advised that staff recommends requiring an avigation easement to the City of San Jose on behalf of SJC within three months of approving the referral.

Commissioner Windus clarified that in the section of the report titled "Steps Following Action," the first paragraph should read "City of Santa Clara" rather than "City of San Jose," and the second paragraph should read, "...two thirds vote of the City Council after documenting findings of fact."

Commissioner Hendricks suggested adding language regarding lighting to the Master Plan to address a potential hazard for pilots to accommodate potential Great America plans to install a large lighted screen.

Jeff Schwilk, Associate Planner, City of Santa Clara, stated that the rezoning provides increased flexibility for planning different rides and uses, and noted that Great America does not seek entitlement for hotels or residential uses.

Erik Schoennauer, Land Use Consultant, The Schoennauer Company, noted that the development standards include lighting regulations stating that all lighting must face downward; that laser lights and spotlights cannot be directed off the property; and, that including further clarification could circumvent aviation impacts. He expressed agreement with updating all language in the zoning document that references height; that a structure must not exceed the noted height limit nor penetrate the Part 77 surface; and, that the lesser height limit will apply.

Cary Greene, Airport Planner, San Jose International Airport, reported that SJC has no rezoning concerns and advised of the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report to address all aviation-related issues.

Mr. Schoennauer noted an agreement with Great America to comply with an avigation easement, and stated that it is unclear whether Great America has legal authority to implement the agreement due to the land lease. Mr. Connolly commented that the City of San Jose Airports Division is authorized to collaborate with the City of Santa Clara to record an avigation easement. Discussion ensued relating to the importance of implementing an avigation easement, and the need for options to clarify the conditions of an avigation easement requirement.

The Commission found the project consistent with the SJC CLUP in view of the proponent's commitment to include the Part 77 surface height limitation in the development standards of the PD zoning, and requested that staff record the dedication of an avigation easement to the City of San Jose on behalf of SJC prior to the issuance of a discretionary permit.

Discussion ensued among the Commissioners relating to the potential issue of lighting on the property as a hazard or distraction to aviation traffic. Mr. Connolly commented that Policy G7 in the CLUP addresses the issue.

MOVER:Walter Windus, Commissioner - Seat 1
SECONDER:Glenn Hendricks, Commissioner - Seat 7
AYES:Walter Windus, Diego Barragan, E. Ronald Blake, Paul Donahue, Will Willoughby, Glenn Hendricks
ABSENT:Ralph Britton