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.