By Michael Cronk

Mercury News Staff Writer

In a move critics say could crimp the ability of Cupertino's largest computer firms to expand, the city council has decided it won't allow the companies to lock in rights for long-range land development, but instead will deal with projects as they arise.

On a 3-2 vote last week, the council decided that Hewlett-Packard Co., Tandem Computers Inc. and Apple Computer Inc. can build the 1.7 million square feet they're already allowed to add under existing plans but must apply one project at a time for an additional 2 million square feet granted in during revisions made to the city's general plan in 1993.

Company officials said the council action left them with a ``queasy feeling'' about future expansion. They prefer the previous practice of negotiating long-range ``development agreements'' with the city that vest specific rights and give the companies a clear sense of what they can build.

``It makes us cautious and concerned,'' said John Hailey, senior planner for Tandem.

Councilwoman Barbara Koppel, who with colleague Lauralee Sorensen voted against the policy change, said the council action encourages the companies to expand elsewhere.

``I'm extremely worried about the future of Cupertino as it relates to the Silicon Valley and the expansion of the `big three,' '' said Koppel.

But supporters of the new policy said the companies are already allowed considerable growth and the change allows the city to more effectively deal with the effects of any growth beyond that amount.

Councilman John Bautista said the council is sending the message: ``Do not attempt to tie our hands until you're ready to build.''

The general plan, adopted in June 1993, attempted to provide more room for the city's ``big three'' computer firms by allowing them 1.7 million square feet of expansion, plus a second tier of an additional 2 million square feet. But to expand into that second tier of development, the companies must meet a number of conditions -- chief among them demonstrating that the additional building will not result in any more traffic in and out of the companies' parking lots.

Bautista said the new policy gives the current and future councils more flexibility in reviewing building projects and making sure so-called ``Tier 2'' building conditions can be met before agreeing to development.

Although the new policy bars agreements that lock in rights to long-term development, it doesn't prevent the companies from submitting master plans for review.

Hewlett-Packard last week informed the city it will soon be submitting an application for a master plan for development of 100 acres at Homestead and Wolfe roads, including 652,000 square feet of Tier 2 space. Richard Rosemeier, Cupertino site operations manager for H-P, said the company will move forward with its application.

Officials at the big-three companies also said businesses need the guarantees of a development agreement when they're investing money to build over a long period of time. They said they can't risk policy reversals and new regulations that could be imposed by new council members -- although none said the new policy would encourage them to expand in other cities instead of Cupertino.

``Every two years there would be the possibility of having the rug pulled out from under you,'' said Hailey. ``This is not the kind of prospect we like to think about.''

Support for the growth of the three companies was expressed by John Statton, executive director of the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce.

``H-P, Tandem and Apple are three of our most prized and visible companies. Keeping them healthy and growing in Cupertino is important to this entire community because they form the base of a food chain that benefits us all,'' he said. ``Cupertino residents live high on the quality-of-life food chain because we have supported the growth of our technology industry. We have built a great community on the back of the computer revolution.''

Bautista and Councilman Don Burnett had earlier pushed to reopen the city's general plan for development, with an eye toward cutting the growth allowed to major firms. The two men had campaigned in 1993 against the amount of industrial growth given to the three companies, saying it would increase density and traffic and create other problems. But the council majority decided against reconsidering the amount of growth allowed, and instead enacted the new policy intended to give the city more control over how development occurs.

Published 3/29/95 in the San Jose Mercury News.

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