Prometheus Real Estate Group has hired a firm to gather signatures in support of a controversial apartment development at Minton's Lumber and Supply — a development which many neighbors oppose.
Petitioning is a political tactic used frequently by a project's opposition, but it is unusual for a developer to gain support for a project this way, and unheard of in Mountain View.
The petition, for "Mountain View residents only," makes a short two-paragraph statement which clearly states the most controversial aspects of the 214-unit project: its density (61 units per acre) and its height (two to four stories).
The petition describes the project as "high density," "environmentally responsible" and "pedestrian friendly." It states that those who sign it "think creating high density housing at the Minton's Lumber property, located at 455 W. Evelyn Ave., next to the Downtown Transit Station and just a short walk from the vibrant retail and commercial core on Castro Street, is an excellent example of environmentally responsible development."
The signature gatherers have been seen at local grocery stores and include unpaid supporters of the project, said Prometheus senior development manager Nathan Tuttle. The City Council is not bound by the petition.
Nor is the council bound by a dueling petition from the project's opponents. That petition has also been gathering steam, with a reported 288 signatures so far — 60 percent of which came from residents living within a few blocks of the proposed project.
These neighbors have strongly opposed the project due to traffic and parking concerns, and made the Minton's project the central issue in recent elections for the Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association Steering Committee, in which over 200 people voted. Following that election, seven of eight steering committee members endorse the opposition petition, which states that the project's density, at twice what is currently zoned, is "unfair to the neighborhood."
The opponents' 750-word petition says the 1.5 parking spaces per unit specified in the design — a reduction granted by the city due to the project's proximity to a train station — is inadequate, and should be upped to the 2.3 spaces normally required. Neighbors say parking is already bad in their neighborhood, and that overflow parking from the development would make it worse.
The opponents' petition also states support for an alternative site plan: "We believe that some mix of town homes, single family homes along with apartments would make sense for this site."
Opponents are criticizing what they call misleading sales pitches used by hired signature gatherers. Project opponent Robert Cox, who was recently elected secretary of the OMVNA, claims that he and others have observed questionable claims made by signature gatherers pitching the petition — saying, for example, that the project is affordable housing for seniors and the disabled. (It is actually market rate, with monthly rents ranging from $1,800 to $2,500 for one- and two-bedroom apartments.)
"I think you have to trust that people are actually reading the petition," Tuttle said in response. "No one is going to sign something like that blindly."
He added that "It's hard to predict how people will go about gathering their signatures. We'd be disappointed if we thought the petition wasn't clear enough."
Prometheus has used signature gathering before, in San Mateo, with positive results for a controversial housing project there of even higher density, Tuttle said. But city planning director Randy Tsuda said he couldn't recall another instance of its use by a developer in Mountain View.
When it comes time for the City Council to decide on the project, "I'd say it's a delicate balance when they are weighing out the sides," Tuttle said. "There are strong opinions and passions on both sides — and we have our own opinions."
"We wouldn't have proposed this development if we didn't think it was the right way to grow the city," Tuttle said. The project is in the spirit of recent state bills SB 375 and AB 32, Tuttle said, "which point to smarter-growth, higher-density housing near transit. It helps people get out of their cars if possible. That by definition is a more affordable way to live, and we think it's a wonderful, smart way to grow the city."