The City Council differed with about a dozen neighbors Tuesday about the merits of building 214 apartments across the street from the Caltrain station.
"This is almost the epitome of a walkable development in the community," said council member Mike Kasperzak.
Prometheus Real Estate hopes to build 214 one- and two-bedroom apartments on 3.3 acres currently occupied by Minton's Lumber. The development would feature two large buildings above an underground parking garage, with the buildings split by a promenade and courtyard similar to what Prometheus built at Park Place on Castro Street.
The buildings would be about two stories high on Villa Street but increase to four stories at Evelyn Avenue. A new public road would run along the eastern edge of the site. The frontage along Bush Street would be three stories.
The project would probably mean the end of Minton's, which is still open for business but whose owners are ready to sell. The lumber supplier has been in business for almost a century.
The neighbors who spoke Tuesday night attempted to point out every possible flaw with the project. They said it would add to the area's traffic problems and "horrendous" parking problems by providing only 1.5 parking spaces per unit (2.3 is usually required), and that it had a "boxy" design. Their biggest peeve: the appropriateness of allowing a project about twice as dense -- at 60 units per acre -- as what's allowed by current zoning, which caps homes at 25 units per acre and three stories in height.
"I can't see any benefit, or if you live in this neighborhood, how this is good for you," said one neighbor.
"Why isn't two stories good enough?" asked neighbor Steve Harrison. "Frankly, it's unfair."
But Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga called it "probably one of the best places to put a high-density project" because of its proximity near the train station.
"Larger scale development makes sense and is justified," agreed Inks.
Council member Tom Means said he was disappointed that the city previously passed on a chance to build higher density homes directly across from the train station.
The Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association has supported the project, and even sent the council a letter saying they would support the "exploration" of higher densities at the site.
Roy Hayter of Advocates for Affordable Housing said the project would help make up for the loss of apartments in the city over the years due to condo conversions. The last apartment project anyone could remember was Avalon towers on El Camino Real. Donna Yobbs said the League of Woman Voters was pleased that the project was including a portion of below market rate units.
Council member Jac Siegel appeared to be the only strong opponent of the project's density. Member Laura Macias was absent.
"The current plan allows high density. This is very high density. I think that could be somewhat of an issue," Siegel said, adding that he sympathized with neighbors who moved in believing there would never be a tall building at the end of Bush Street.
"I wouldn't worry about the density. Density on Evelyn makes sense," said council member Ronit Bryant, who lives nearby on Dana and Bush streets.
While others had problems with the architectural style, a mix of contemporary and classic design, Bryant said that didn't bother her.
"What makes downtown is not the style, it's the walkability of it, the doors facing the street, the stoops, the street trees and the planting strips. The precise details of the architecture are not as important to me. More and more people walk in the neighborhood. That level needs to be friendly and not a blank wall."