Mountain View Voice

Opinion - October 4, 2013

A sensible start on Rose market site

The owners of popular Castro Street businesses like the Rose Market and Peet's Coffee and Tea got a surprise last week when the developer Greystar reduced the size of its planned apartment complex on the corner of El Camino Real and Castro Street and in the process agreed to offer most displaced owners ground-floor retail space in the new building.

It was a major concession that perhaps was caused by the outpouring of support for the businesses in the last few months, including one meeting where more than 200 people showed up to back owners who feared they would simply be evicted when construction begins in two years. In addition to Rose Market and Peet's, the new design shows space for Sufi Coffee shop, Tanya's Hair Design and Le's Alterations. The developer also indicated he may be willing to line up temporary space at an open lot across the street for the businesses to use during construction of the new building.

A Greystar executive, Dan Diebel, said at a City Council study session that relocating the merchants is "a moral issue" with his company. "Right now we're making deals with them (the merchants) to relocate them them and move them back in. We would accept a condition to do that."

Neither the merchants or Greystar mentioned whether rent in the new space would be comparable to rent now charged on Castro Street.

At this time it is not known whether Greystar will accommodate Gochi Japanese Fusion Tapas at 1036 Castro St., whose owner said he and his wife spent their life savings to open the restaurant in August, and were never told by the landlord that there was a chance the building would be sold and redeveloped so soon. Unfortunately the business was not among those Greystar said it would accommodate, although we hope it will be.

But even given all the good news, concerns remain about the project, which the owners hope will receive approval this year. There are questions about traffic, and there was a lot of discussion about where to locate a ground-floor plaza for the building. A location on the corner of El Camino and Castro is favored by the developer, who pointed out that although it would be close to the busy thoroughfare, there would be seating behind a glass screen. The council backed the idea, rather than an alternate plan located behind Peet's on an alleyway.

And there is concern among some vocal neighbors about a possible new "road diet" on Castro that will squeeze traffic into two lanes. Whether this would increase traffic, as neighbors suggest, is unclear. But even a slight increase in traffic is unlikely to outweigh the concern among City Council members, school officials and parents about the speed of cars in front of Graham Middle School, where several kids were hit by cars last year.

Narrowing the street will decrease crossing distances and encourage drivers to not use the street like an expressway. Taking the road diet off the table would be an unnecessary sacrifice to the safety of the city's kids.

Another plus is the city will get a major infusion of new housing downtown within walking distance of shops and for tenants, the transit center on Evelyn Street. And with a four-story design that is stepped down in the rear, the neighbors have escaped looking at what could be an eight-story building that is permitted by city's new general plan if it includes"significant community benefit."

In this first round of discussions, Greystar has responded to the concerns of some of its critics. The question for the city now is whether they have offered enough.

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