"Topographically, it's totally uninspiring," said Council member Mike Kasperzak. "I was kind of underwhelmed. I didn't think it was as visionary as the first concept we saw."
Developer Merlone Geier has spent the last year developing the plan for the property where Sears and Rite Aid are now, but three of the six council members present were not impressed the latest iteration and wanted to see "a more visionary plan," said Mayor Ronit Bryant
"I was deeply underwhelmed actually," said Bryant. "After thirty years of looking at San Antonio Center, I thought we had a developer seriously interested in doing something with it. Looking at this, I was deeply disappointed."
A new Safeway grocery store, replacing the California Street location, and Rite Aid would anchor more than a dozen smaller stores and 325 rental apartments on the site in five-story buildings. The 11 acres extend north from the corner of El Camino Real and front San Antonio Road, where two buildings and an ornate plaza are designed to encourage outdoor seating at the busy intersection.
Removed from a previous design was a large single story parking structure under most of the development with a pedestrian promenade above it. It was replaced with rooftop parking and a large, uncovered, ground-level parking lot that took up much of the site. That change was supposed to improve access into and around the site, but council members were not pleased.
"I look at this and I think 'Where would I want to walk?'" Bryant said, later adding that the design looked "disjointed" and that the buildings looked "plonked" in place.
Council member Tom Means said he could be counted as part of the "underwhelmed" group as well. The four other council members were more supportive of the plan, including Council member John Inks. But Inks learned just before the meeting that he had to abstain because of the proximity of his home to the shopping center, effectively creating a 3-3 deadlock.
After the meeting, Inks said he would have supported the project because it is realistic, considering the sort place the rest of the 56-acre shopping center is.
Inks said that "with Walmart and Kohls there, you are not going to be able to attract the high-end tenants" that would be required for the pedestrian friendly, Santana Row-type development that most council members would like in Mountain View.
The entire council had nothing but praise for Merlone Geier's plan to turn the Hetch-Hetchy right of way at the north end of the project into a sort of main street and greenbelt with park space and outdoor seating. The San Francisco Public Utilities-owned property bisects the shopping center and cannot have buildings above it because the peninsula's main water supply runs in a large aqueduct underneath it.
Five acres that Merlone Geier owns north of the Hetch-Hetchy right of way were left out of the latest plans, which also concerned council members who wanted to visualize pedestrian and car travel through the area. Several council members brought up Santa Row's simple grid of streets in San Jose as a model to be followed.