Local real estate development appears to be back in full swing, as a parade of developers came before the City Council Tuesday night to propose two large apartment complexes and new offices for Google and Symantec, among others.
But it was a bad night for Mozart development, the high flying Palo Alto developer of 5.5 million square feet of office space in the Valley and numerous homes under its subsidiary, Classic Communities. The company had two proposals denied by the council Tuesday, including a gatekeeper request for a five-story office building at Evelyn and Calderon streets and plans for a 14-unit row house project on Plymouth Avenue that the company spent a year designing, paying the city $20,000 in fees.
The council voted 5-2 to deny the housing project and voted unanimously to deny the five-story downtown office building, which would have been built instead of a 65-unit housing development Mozart recently had approved for the site. Residents strongly opposed it, with longtime resident Joan McDonald calling it a "slap in the face" to those who participated in general plan hearings. Downtown resident Bruce Karney predicted that the neighborhood would to return again and again to "beat the project into submission."
The five-story office would have included park space and a three-story underground garage, but neighbors said the building would stick out like a sore thumb and would likely have major traffic impacts. Three members who were partial to the office proposal, Jac Siegel, Mike Kasperzak and John Inks, said it could boost business downtown and would be convenient for workers coming in by train. But "this is just going to bring city staff and the council lots of grief," said council member Inks.
Housing project denied
Earlier in the evening the council rejected another Mozart project, one that would have squeezed 14 three-story homes on a 0.8 acre, rhombus-shaped site. Instead of porches, garages dominated the fronts of homes along a T-shaped driveway. Mozart's Scott Ward said it was the best possible design for the site, and said making changes to fit city guidelines would result in an "inferior project."
After the vote to deny the project, Ward said, "I've never been in this position before. Do we start all over again?"
The council's answer was basically, yes, go back to the drawing board.
"I'm not looking for small changes here," said council member Ronit Bryant.
Some council members said the small lot needed to be combined with neighboring lots for a workable project, possibly a "work-loft" style housing project, said council members Mike Kasperzak and Laura Macias.
Council members John Inks and Tom Means voted for the housing project, with Means criticizing council members for thinking they had a better idea of what sort of homes would sell. "You just don't know what you are doing," Means said to Ward facetiously.
Member Margaret-Abe-Koga said the homes would have been affordable for families with the estimated average sale price of $587,500 for three- and four-bedroom homes. But she ended up voting against the project because it violated many of the city's award winning row-home design guidelines with too little parking and no common areas, only private backyards. "Folks won't socialize as much," she said.
Inks criticized the city's planning process for not killing the project earlier. Ward said he avoided the city's gatekeeper process because the project had fewer than 15 units.
Four developers get nod
Council members unanimously voted to approve four gatekeeper requests Tuesday night, allowing developers to begin work on two, 100-plus unit housing projects along Central Expressway, one at Rengstorff Avenue and another at the busy Moffett Boulevard intersection downtown. Google and Symantec also got the green light to add buildings to their existing properties.
The decision was made despite concern from resident Thida Cornes that the necessary zoning changes should be considered along with impacts to be outlined early next year in the city's draft general plan update.
Fairfield Development proposes 128 apartments for 1.83 acres at 100 Moffett Boulevard, replacing the county social services building that is located a stone's throw from the train station where it is conveniently located for the city's poorer residents. But the site has been called an important "gateway" to downtown and redevelopment there would improve Moffett's connection to Castro Street. The county's lease is up at the end of August.
McCoy said Fairfield backed away from building ground floor retail in the project, which Abe-Koga opposed, noting that residents wanted mixed use on Moffett Boulevard in general plan update meetings. Other members said the project would likely be a huge improvement even without retail.
Fairfield vice president Ed McCoy proposed a density of 70 units per acre, with two to four stories of housing above a two-story parking garage. The garage would have one street level and one level underground. In contrast, the Minton's development nearby on Evelyn, which tapers from four to two stories, is just under 60 units per acre. The city's general plan update is studying 60 units per acre on the site, up from the 43 now allowed.
City Attorney Jannie Quinn said the city would be obligated to allow a higher than usual density for the project under state laws which allow a "density bonus" if it includes affordable housing as 10 percent of the project, as has been proposed.
Google to build near downtown
The Council allowed Google to begin designing an expansion of the historic Pacific Press campus at the corner of Villa and Shoreline streets. Google wants to add buildings and possibly a parking garage to the site, doubling its density to a floor ratio of .65. Google has also proposed a 20-percent reduction in parking requirements because of the site's proximity to transit.
Google's director of design and construction, John Igo, said the project will also upgrade the old buildings on the site "to make it an exciting place for employees," close to downtown and transit. Council member Ronit Bryant said the site's vast parking lots, where she taught her kids to drive, provided plenty of room for new buildings there.
Prometheus' new project
Having started construction on over 200 homes where Minton's Lumber and Supply once stood, Prometheus Real Estate Group has purchased the Northpark apartment complex at Rengstorff Avenue and is now set to begin the design of 144 new apartments on the site, replacing 50 of the 188 existing, and creating a new street corner frontage on the expressway. The rest of the complex would be renovated for a final density of 25 units per acre on the site.
Symantec to expand HQ
Mountain View-based Symantec plans to close its Cupertino offices and consolidate in Mountain View, creating the need to expand at Symantec's property at 350 Ellis Street and 575 East Middlefield Road. The company currently has 3,700 employees in the city.
No plans have been drawn, but Derek Huffman, Symantec's director of construction, said Symantec was looking for reassurance that they would be allowed to build at a 1.0 floor area ratio, a doubling of what's currently allowed.
That change is being examined in the city's general plan update, a draft of which will be released early next year. Council member Abe-Koga questioned why Symantec needed to move nine months before the draft general plan was released, saying the extra work for planning staff "would slow us down."
That answer was that the company is "growing fairly rapidly" and needed to design expansion plans as soon as possible to be "in front of the curve," Huffman said.