After sharp public opposition delayed phase two of Merlone Geier's Village at San Antonio Center project last week, City Council members showed signs on Tuesday of making housing a higher priority in the San Antonio shopping center area.
At the study session meeting in the Mountain View Senior Center on July 8, council members came to a rough consensus that the San Antonio precise plan should put more emphasis on a mix of housing and retail in the San Antonio shopping center, with limited exceptions for small office space and fewer restrictions on office space north of California Street. The precise plan is a document guiding future development in the area, which is southeast of the corner of El Camino Real and San Antonio Road and includes the San Antonio shopping center.
Mayor Chris Clark said city staff was directed to expand areas where housing would be allowed, and make an overall reduction in office space in the San Antonio precise plan. Clark said although the city cannot require developers to build affordable housing, the wording in the precise plan will emphasize that they want a range of housing options.
Support for more housing by council members was an about-face from the February study session, where they opposed housing as a priority in the San Antonio area. Council member Mike Kasperzak said the council is taking a step back from the direction they were going in February.
"We seriously de-emphasized housing in February, and the decision we're trying to come up with now is to de-emphasize retail or office in favor of housing," Kasperzak said.
Council member Ronit Bryant said the shift in priorities comes from the community feedback, which calls for a better balance between newly developed jobs and housing in Mountain View. The San Antonio precise plan, as proposed last month, would allow for 879,000 square feet of office space in the San Antonio shopping center and surrounding blocks. This would create anywhere from 4,395 to 5,860 jobs, but only 1,575 homes.
"What we heard really clearly from the community is we're building enough office space," Bryant said. "We need to leave it flexible, and I would like to put housing and retail mixed use in and encourage restrictions on office."
This mixed use of residential and retail might include buildings with housing units on floors above retail stores. Kasperzak did voice some concern that maintaining a housing-retail proportion might make it difficult for developers in the area.
"My concern is that if retail establishments want to build a new store, like a Kohl's, if it makes it kind of complicated for developers who know they need to deal with this residential proportion requirement," Kasperzak said.
Bryant said that the current San Antonio plan lacks focus, and though the public support has been in favor of more housing over office space, Bryant said it's important to remember it is a "shopping" center.
"We're just all over the place with the precise plan," Bryant said. "If we had a picture of what we wanted it to look like, it would be better.
Bryant suggested a scenario where the shopping center would have retail, a range of different housing options and limited office space.
"I think we could come up with something very interesting," Bryant said.
Clark said he supported limited options for office space in the mixed residential and retail areas of the shopping center, and said restricting the area with no wiggle room for small offices sounded like an onerous policy.
"We should make sure there's no unintended consequences where we can't allow a small, 20,000 or 30,000 (square foot) office space in an area of mixed-use," Clark said.
Along with finding ways to pinpoint lower office space in the plan, council members considered "phasing" options, where office space could be capped at a certain square footage until more retail and residential development gets added.
There were some initial concerns that the additional housing in the precise plan could go beyond the threshold of the environmental impact analysis, forcing city staff to revisit the precise plan overall. City planner Rebecca Shapiro said a change in the environmental analysis would delay phase two planning beyond the end of the year, but working within the boundaries is a "workable plan."
Clark said there's plenty of leeway in the environmental impact report (EIR), and that the threshold is around 10 times the previously proposed housing numbers. He said reaching the 1,900-some housing unit cap would take years, and a new environmental impact analysis could be done later down the road to avoid delaying current plans.
"I think the numbers are okay from an EIR perspective," Clark said. "Council should decide how much they should push for housing."
Lenny Siegel and other members of the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View attended the meeting. The group spearheaded the community outcry for a balanced jobs-housing ratio in the San Antonio Precise Plan and threatened to put a referendum on the ballot if the plan was approved as-is.
Siegel said the council has come a long way in responding to the community and he's pleased with their progress, but they still have further to go. He said he was disappointed that the council member's discussion was very narrow, and didn't reference many of the concerns from the public.
"They missed the whole point in trying to create a livable community," Seigel said.
Siegel said that "livable community" should include a neighborhood school -- something that was not mentioned once at the study session meeting Tuesday. Seigel said a school in the San Antonio precise plan area makes sense from the point of view of people in the area who want to live in a family community, and it makes sense from the point of view of traffic.
Siegel said council members need to consider family-friendly housing, and that so far the housing designed in the San Antonio area has discouraged kids.
"Even young people are speaking out," Siegel said. "They want to settle down in the area and have a family, and solving the housing problem isn't just the number of units."
Clark said a new draft of the plan with council member feedback will be available in September, and the City Council will likely have another study session on the draft. Council members are slated to vote on the new draft by the end of this year.