Beloved South Bay garden could be forced to uproot for new development

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- SAN JOSE, Calif. - At the corner of Race Street and Garland Avenue in San Jose, Middlebrook Gardens has grown considerably over nearly 20 years. Of course, in that same time, so has rent for the property.

"It might've been $1,000, and now it's $8,000," Alrie Middlebrook told ABC7 News.

Middlebrook is the executive director of the California Native Garden Foundation, and founder of Middlebrook Gardens.

She could soon be forced to uproot her native garden, one that is well-attended by the public. Middlebrook said it draws in an estimated 8,000 visitors a year.

On Wednesday, San Jose's Deputy Director of Planning approved a plan to get rid of the garden to make way for a retail building.

"It was a difficult decision," Robert Manford said. "However, bottom line is that it becomes a property rights issue and we have to weigh the facts presented to us."

Manford explained the project, as it was presented, was in compliance with development standards.

"It's up to the developer to either develop as proposed and approved," Manford said about the next steps in the process. "Or, if the applicant is able to persuasively present their case and negotiate with them, I believe it would be good."

He added, "Hopefully they can retain it, but in terms of denying the project, we didn't have any evidence or counter-facts to support denial."

At Wednesday's hearing, the property owner said he'd be willing to sell the land for $4-million. It's money Middlebrook doesn't have.

She's already behind on rent, and is hoping this campaign and community partnerships will keep her garden growing.

San Jose resident, Miguel Lepoutre is one of a dozen who spoke at that hearing.

He told ABC7 News, the garden is his favorite place in San Jose. It's one of a very few that takes him away from technology.

"You're away from the screen, which is really healthy," Lepoutre said. "You're out in the sun, you burn your nose a little bit. It's great."

But after nearly 20 years at 76 Race Street, days are numbered for Middlebrook Gardens.

Middlebrook said she has plans to meet with San Jose's planning commission and the mayor's office to find a way to save the lot.

"Why would anybody want to stop us from doing what we're doing," she questioned, as she explained eco-literacy, education and agriculture training at the garden.

"This is more than a little community garden," Middlebrook said. "So, I'm going to keep fighting, but I can't fight this fight alone."

Middlebrook has until June 10th to appeal.

ABC7 News has reached out to the property owner for comment. This web article will be updated to reflect Fred Soltanzad's response.
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