Escuela condo project rejected

Developer wanted elevator, underground garage

In a strange process Tuesday night, a 14-unit condo project at 574 Escuela Ave. was denied 6-1 by the City Council, even though several members appeared to support it.

Despite opposition from city staff who say the project is too large, developer Wayne Aozasa has been a passionate advocate for his three-story condo project across the street from Castro Elementary School, which he says would "diversify" the city's housing. In efforts to meet the unmet need for housing suited for seniors, the classic hotel-style project, called "Escuela Terrace," includes an elevator from an underground parking garage. A smaller project would make those items financially unfeasible, Aozasa says.

"If you are 63 years old and you go out looking for an apartment, where are you going to find a 1,400-square-foot unit that you don't have to lift a foot to walk in?" Aozasa said Tuesday afternoon. "We are trying to diversify the housing stock and they are not permitting me to do that."

After Aozasa refused to significantly change the project after several rounds of review by the City Planning Department, planning director Randy Tsuda allowed it to go before the council. Because the project lacked the legally required California Environmental Quality Act documents, the council was told by city attorney Michael Martello that they could not legally approve the project. Martello also cautioned against a detailed critique of the project. "The environmental document is something you have to have before you can weigh in," he said.

Council member Jac Siegel was the biggest opponent of the project, saying the $700,000 price for each unit was not "affordable" for seniors. Other council members, including Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga and Mike Kasperzak, appeared to be supportive of Aozasa's goal of more diversity in housing, and member John Inks seemed to like the project as well. However, the council voted 6-1 to deny the project (Inks was opposed), after the city attorney told members that denial would be similar to allowing it to continue through the planning process.

Aozasa left the meeting unsure about what had happened. He appeared to be seriously considering giving up on his plans for the underground parking garage and the elevator. Tsuda encouraged him to come back the next morning to get started on a new project.

City planners said Aozasa's vision could be brought into compliance with the zoning code with some adjustments, but in their professional opinion, the project would still be too large for the long, narrow parcel and would dominate the landscape when finished. City planners want row homes or townhouses for the site.

A church sits to the south, a single story duplex to the north, and an apartment building to the rear of similar height. Story poles currently sit on the site to show how the proposed structure compares to neighboring buildings.

Aozasa says his three-story, 33-foot-high project is well within the R3 zoning for the site, which allows for a height of 45 feet.

Despite meeting notices sent by the city to neighbors, no neighbors came to the meeting Tuesday night to oppose the project. But several neighboring property owners, some of whom have similarly shaped lots, showed up to support it.

At the end of the night, member Laura Macias suggested that the City Council make it clear what it wants for the long narrow lots, like Aozasa's, that appear throughout Mountain View. City Manager Kevin Duggan suggested the council discuss the problem as part of the city's General Plan update.


Posted by Matt, a resident of Shoreline West
on May 21, 2009 at 3:11 pm

This is insane. Please everyone, go drive by the property as it is now. Anything would be an improvement, and these condos actually looked liked a really nice plan to help clean up the neighborhood. I was already trying to inquire how to purchase one.

Posted by ka, a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 21, 2009 at 3:30 pm

a luxury senior condo in that neighborhood is insane.

Posted by Matt, a resident of Shoreline West
on May 21, 2009 at 3:44 pm

ka - Not sure why it needs to be for 'seniors'. That would be a weird criteria, I agree, but not out of place since the Senior Center is three blocks away.

All I am saying is that anything is better than what is there now.

Posted by ka, a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 21, 2009 at 3:55 pm

I got seniors from the 2nd paragraph of the article. you're right, it would be close to the senior center. it would also be close to sizzler, another favorite senior citizen hangout. but, it seems sort of out of character for that neighborhood, unless a lot of buildings around there are going to be torn down.

Posted by wayne, a resident of Shoreline West
on May 21, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Mr. DeBolt. Well stated article. I would like to comment on a few things on that meeting. I was quite offended by Mr. Segal's tyrannical "I'm the King" remarks towards an applicant trying to provide a community housing benefit. Also his policy of down-zoning without legislation is appauling and with total disregard of the zoning code: the text for the General Plan. It is obvious to me, even though the project complied with the City's own written ordinances his edicts have been embraced by the planning staff. I would like to thank all the adjacent property owners who came to speak on behalf of our project. (No one objected) I will still pursuit entitlements for the site and be a relentless anti-lobbiest for Mr. Segal not to be re-elected later this year. I can hear his campaign slogan now...
Developers Beware, Property owners be scared, and seniors be prepared.

Posted by Tony G, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 21, 2009 at 8:59 pm

Could not understand the objections. This is a great project. It really reminded of the council in the movie the planet of the Apes. Was completely Shocked. What are they thinking?

Posted by Robert, a resident of Shoreline West
on May 22, 2009 at 11:36 am

From what I understand, the proposal is not dead (correct?) Is there anyway for other neighbors to show support for the next phase after the California Environmental Quality Act stuff is prepared?

Was the cost / unit the real issue or was it rather the size of the project? $700K / unit seems like a steal compared to other Mountain View properties. Is there a way the project could move forward if it were scaled back just a bit (I don't know...say 2 stories instead of 3, slightly smaller.) It seems odd to me to me to plunk down a big 3-story building amidst single-story surrounding houses. I'll have to swing by this weekend to take a look; the google street view just doesn't seem to tell the whole story.

Posted by stephan, a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 22, 2009 at 8:12 pm

What do you mean by down zoning?? I own property on Cuesta Ave.
If I wanted to add a second story to my house that met all the guidelines could I be denied because the planner did not like it??

Posted by arlo, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 22, 2009 at 8:18 pm

In regards to Jac Segal, you could ask Toll Brothers, Sobrato Companies, The Thoits Family, Jazz Development and now Escuela Terrace
about his no growth policies. I am sure they will be endorsing
his campaign this year!! I agree...$700K seems to be a great price.
Is it too late to get a referendum on his ass??

Posted by Grant, a resident of North Whisman
on May 22, 2009 at 8:26 pm

The article seem to indicate the project was not dead. I for one will
be interestd in a unit there should it ever be built. No stairs, who cares! Segal is outside his mind. We need this type of condo and $700,000 seems affordable to me and I am a senior.

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