Mountain View Voice

Opinion - January 1, 2010

Editorial: Needless conflict on rental complex

It looks as if the City Council will have a hot potato on its hands when members must decide later this year whether to bend the zoning rules to permit development of a 214-unit rental apartment complex on the Minton's Lumber and Supply site.

Already, the Prometheus Real Estate Group has taken the unusual step of hiring professionals to gather signatures of people who support their Evelyn Avenue project, countering opponents who had unleashed their own petition drive, claiming that parking from the project will clog the streets in their beloved Old Mountain View neighborhood. Oddly, neither petition will carry any official weight with the council, although each side apparently will be allowed to show their work during the council's decision process.

At the heart of the decision is whether the city Planning Department was correct in reducing the project's parking requirement from 2.3 to 1.5 spaces per unit, due to its proximity to mass transit. Prometheus argues that recent state legislation promoting such "transit-oriented development" encourages its high-density project at 61 units per acre. Without the relaxed parking requirements, the all-rental project would not be feasible, Prometheus says.

The neighbors strongly disagree, and in their petition say parking is already bad and that tenants who are not guaranteed space in an underground garage will spill over into their neighborhood streets. Instead of rentals, some Old Mountain View residents say they would prefer to see Prometheus build a mix of town homes and single-family homes along with the apartments on the site.

Other than the easing of parking requirements, the project needs approval to exceed density limits set by the precise plan on Evelyn, from 25 to 61 units per acre. But the city has never been reluctant to push the density envelope when it is appropriate, as it did for the 10-story Avalon Towers on El Camino Real and the five-story Park Place development on High School Way. The Prometheus project's Villa Street neighbors will look out on two-story units, while the taller, four-story buildings will face the Evelyn Avenue side, facing Central Expressway and the Caltrain tracks.

More details about the project and about neighborhood concerns are sure to come out as the day of reckoning approaches. There is merit in each side's arguments, but we see nothing that could not be resolved if both parties made a solid effort to do so. One possibility: The developer could find a way to provide a few more parking spaces, either on the site or at a nearby location. And, the city could help by restricting parking on some neighborhood streets to residents only. This type of solution has proven successful in other communities.

Over the years, Mountain View has earned high marks for its multi-modal transit hub on Evelyn. A dense housing development within walking distance of rail, light-rail and bus service is the dream of planning directors up and down the Peninsula. This one should not be scuttled due to a neighborhood parking skirmish that doesn't seem that serious.

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