Mountain View Voice

News - April 26, 2013

Council OKs mixed-use project on Castro

by Daniel DeBolt

After an intense discussion about downtown architecture, the City Council on Tuesday approved a redevelopment of the corner of Church and Castro streets.

The developer, the Malek family's MPM corporation, was given the green light to build a four-story 28,000 square foot building at 605 Castro Street, with space for offices on the upper levels and ground-floor retail or office. Eight, three-story condos are placed behind the building, half with stoops along Hope Street.

A two-level underground garage has 87 spaces, 16 percent less than normally required. An exception was made because there is expected to be less overflow street parking than from existing uses.

Council member Ronit Bryant persuaded other members to require significant changes to a ground floor wall along Church Street at Hope Street.

"A downtown is only successful if it's interesting to walk there," Bryant said. "A blank wall will not be a pleasure to walk by."

With assurances from architect William Maston that the corner could be redesigned, the council eventually approved the project on a 5-1 vote. John McAlister opposed the project while member Margaret Abe-Koga abstained because she lives nearby.

Council members appeared to be weighing what the project meant for the Community Health Awareness Council — the non-profit mental health counseling service currently housed on the site, which the city helps to fund. The developer has purchased a significantly larger building for CHAC on El Camino Real, but CHAC would only be able to move into it if the project is approved.

"This project has already been through five DRC (design review committee) reviews," said Mayor John Inks. The council should "appreciate the contributions of the Malek family," he said, adding that he had concerns about "making design changes that cascade throughout the building."

Making some cosmetic changes wasn't enough for Bryant.

"We all love CHAC, the property owners are great people, but this is not the correct look," Bryant said. "I will not be able to support this — we're talking about half a block on Church Street taken out of the neighborhood. It becomes a dead block, as far as I'm concerned."

Among the council's suggested fixes was a "water feature" or a garden planted on the wall to make a"living wall." With the right artistic addition to the walls "this could actually become an iconic corner in Mountain View because of the discussion we've had tonight," Inks said.

An electrical room, garbage bins and bike parking were behind the walls and would have to be moved for significant changes.

"This is a very challenging site to design," said zoning administrator Peter Gilli, adding that "being downtown, expectations are generally higher."

The council ended up leaving the issue for city staff to work out with the understanding that significant changes had to be made.

"Understanding the issues are about the pedestrian experience at ground level, there are a number of things we can do," Maston said, such as taking the corner condo unit and "bringing it all the way down to the street."

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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