Mountain View Voice

News - June 22, 2012

Council OKs 134 new apartments

by Daniel DeBolt

If the city's park and housing fees are not too onerous, Prometheus Real Estate Group can move forward with building 134 new apartments to replace 50 units at an older complex it owns at 111 North Rengstorff.

Council members voted unanimously to approve the project on Tuesday for the northeast corner of North Rengstorff Avenue and Central Expressway. The proposal saw no neighborhood opposition and unanimous support from the Environmental Planning Commission. Three-story apartment buildings would face the intersection, one of the busiest in the city, and increase the total size of the complex from 188 to 272 units. A new park, equal to the size of downtown's Mercy Bush Park, would replace parking spaces on the site.

Council members expressed no concern over the developer's complaints about city fees, including a possible affordable housing fee charged on the project before it is occupied, a fee that could be equal to 4.6 percent of the project's value. The fees would provide funds for subsidized affordable housing elsewhere in Mountain View.

"As developers I'm not aware of a time where we would be investing tens of millions of dollars into a property and not have clarity as to our financial obligations," said Jon Moss of Prometheus Real Estate Group.

"If you want certainty I guess you can give us some offers," for including affordable housing in the project, said council member Jac Siegel. "It can be done quickly and Prometheus can have all the certainty they want," said council member Ronit Bryant.

Mayor Mike Kasperzak said the council is likely to pass a new policy soon that would allow a developer to build 10 percent of a rental project as affordable housing, instead of a more expensive fee equal to 4.6 percent of the project's value. "It would likely need 13 units, but maybe we're comfortable with 10," Kasperzak said.

Council members also expressed concern about the placement of apartment stoops along Rengstorff Avenue, which isn't uncommon on Rengstorff, Kasperzak said, although Siegel noted that the intersection was the second busiest in the city.

"Having units right on the streets does not make sense in this situation," council member Laura Macias said.

Macias decried the loss of 23 heritage trees from the property. Moss said that was significantly better than a previously approved proposal by Lyon Homes to build 206 three-bedroom townhomes on the site, removing 91 heritage trees. Each lost heritage tree would be replaced with a new box tree.

Bryant proposed the council consider a new policy that developers be told up front to design their projects around heritage trees, but it failed to get enough votes to make it back onto the agenda, with Macias and Siegel being the idea's only other supporters.

"We all know when a project comes to council it's fairly rare we say, 'Go back to the drawing board,'" Bryant said.

Moss also described the city's $2.4 million park fee for the project as "a significant surprise to us." Prometheus assumed the fee would be much lower, based on the net increase of 84 units to the project, not all 134 new units. City Attorney Jannie Quinn said that would usually be true, but the 50 units to be demolished were built before the city's park fee was created in 1971.

"Can we get get financing? The simple answer is I do not know," Moss said after objecting to the housing and park fees.

Before the council approved the project, a condition was added to the project to require the reconstruction of the sidewalk along the project and Central Expressway. A motion by council member Tom Means without the sidewalk reconstruction had failed 5-2 with only Means and John Inks in favor.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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