Mountain View Voice

News - April 30, 2010

After much ado, City Council finally approves Minton's project

by Daniel DeBolt

The City Council gave the green light once and for all on Tuesday night to a 203-unit luxury apartment complex which will take the place of Minton's Lumber and Supply at 455 W. Evelyn Ave. — but not without a word from a few council members.

After much controversy and debate in the downtown neighborhood about the project, council members Jac Siegel and Laura Macias were the only opponents in a 5-2 council vote. Public comment was largely taken at a previous meeting.

"There was a revolt in this neighborhood over this project," said Siegel, who spent more than 20 minutes railing against the proposal. "I don't know why we aren't listening to the neighborhood and what they want."

Other council members disagreed.

"I heard opinions from both sides — there was a whole range of perspectives in each category," said council member Margaret Abe Koga. "Can I say there is a majority or a voice one way or the other? I would have to say no."

Council members in favor of the project said its location, across the street from the downtown train station, was ideal for the relatively large buildings, which will be four stories tall along Evelyn Avenue and transition to two stories along Villa Street.

It is estimated that the high-end apartments, to be built and managed by Prometheus Real Estate Group, will garner rents ranging from $1,800 a for a one bedroom apartment to $2,500 for a two bedroom apartment. Council member Mike Kasperzak said paying such rents will likely be more attractive than putting a $300,000 down payment on a $1 million home downtown, where the council believes many people want to live.

Frank Clohan, a lawyer for the Eaton family which owns Minton's, said the project would provide lease income for the family, which is looking to close the city's oldest business as sales have been declining for years. He responded to a hope from neighborhood opponents that the council would reject the apartment project, thereby forcing the family to sell the property and make it likely that a lower-density condo development would be built.

"Unequivocally the property is not for sale," Clohan said. "If we can't make this work we'll find another lease" deal. It was later pointed out that such a deal would possibly be with another commercial business to replace Minton's.

Clohan read a statement from Debra Shulz, manager of Minton's: "It is the strong desire and preference of my father and our family and that the property remain in our family for years to come," she wrote. "The project is a "wonderful opportunity for the city of Mountain View to move forward" and add to the "economic vitality and vibrancy of our downtown which so desperately needs it."

Abe-Koga said she hoped that someday there would be 4,000 to 5,000 residences in the downtown, a number which consultants recently said would support a long-sought-after grocery store in the area. There are currently 3,400 homes downtown, Abe-Koga said, and "My hope is we will eventually get there and be able to sustain a grocery store."

Echoing a major concern from neighborhood opponents about worsening parking troubles in the neighborhood, Siegel said he would support the project if the parking ratio was upped from 1.5 spaces per unit to a more typical 1.8 to prevent overflow of cars into the neighborhood. Instead, most of the council appeared to agree with city studies saying parking was adequate.

"Most environmentalists think we are just going 'bassackwards' if we add more free parking to this project," said council member Mike Kasperzak, referring to an idea echoed by many that a development near the train station should encourage people to drive less.

The project had received wide support from various organizations, including a group of planning-minded environmentalists called the Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning. Their idea to "un-bundle" the cost of parking for residents of the project was talked about by the council, but no commitment was made to the idea. It would allow residents a major rent discount if they decided not to have a parking spot in the underground garage, a proposal which would require parking restrictions on nearby streets, Kasperzak said.

The developer, Prometheus Real Estate Group, had previously offered to deepen the parking garage if necessary to allow 20 parking "stackers" for additional parking spaces. But after a public hearing a few weeks ago that offer was removed from the table in favor of contributing to the city's affordable housing stock. Council members also said they weren't crazy about the parking stacker idea.

Prometheus had previously planned for 21 units of affordable housing from the project until a recent court decision made it illegal for cities to require affordable housing in new housing projects. Prometheus then removed its affordable housing, but in response to concern from the council and local housing advocates about that move, the developer came back with several new proposals: paying $2 million to the city's affordable housing fund, building only a portion of the affordable units, turning 20 existing apartments at 111 Rengstorff Ave. (another Prometheus-owned complex) into affordable apartments, or some combination of the latter two options.

City staffers recommended that seven new affordable units be built at 455 W. Evelyn Ave., and the council eventually agreed. The idea also got a nod from Jon Moss, senior vice president of development for Prometheus Real Estate Group.

The reduction in the project's affordable housing was partly due to a worsening economic recession since the project began, Moss said.

In Mountain View, "The average apartment rent dropped 10.7 percent in the last 12 months," Moss said. That means a "direct decrease in the value of this project by 10.7 percent." For this "$70 million project, that is a $7 million reduction in value."

Though the project was approved, the council will finalize some details in a developer's agreement to be approved on May 11.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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