Mountain View Voice

News - July 4, 2014

City delays decision on WhatsApp building

Developer seeks to use ground-floor space, slated for retail or restaurant use, as employee break room

by Daniel DeBolt

On June 25, Zoning Administrator Gerry Beaudin delayed approval of an office developer's controversial request to allow Facebook-owned WhatsApp to put an employee break room in a space originally slated for a cafe, shop or restaurant.

After public outcry over the request, architect Bud Kobza requested the delay, as his group was "taken by surprise that the item was removed from the consent calendar" and made a public discussion item at the meeting. "We need a little more time to prepare ourselves," he said.

City staff have yet to announce the date of the next meeting on the request.

Several residents attended the 4 p.m. meeting on June 25 to oppose the request that the 932-square-foot ground-floor space on the corner of Villa and Bryant streets be used as break room, which would mean removing what they said was a major selling point for the controversial project: a pedestrian-friendly cafe space on the ground floor.

Developer Roger Burnell said that in over a year and a half of seeking a tenant for the space, "we didn't receive a single offer from a coffee shop or coffee shop chain, and we went to all of them. It was considered, one, too large for that kind of location not along a thoroughfare. Two, the parking wasn't adequate for drive-by or pull-in parking. Three, is the concern of parking congestion in that area." He added that it was written into the project's conditions that he could pay fees to get out of the requirement.

Downtown resident Max Hauser, who pens a newsletter on the local restaurant scene, said over that same year and a half, more than 17 new restaurants, cafes and tea shops had opened downtown.

"Half of these 17 are similar or smaller-sized properties to what we have here," Hauser said. "I have a hard time crediting the argument that there is a lack of tenants of this kind. I also feel that the owner of a property like this, in setting terms of occupancy, has some control of the situation and in holding up his end of the bargain."

Resident Thida Cornes said Burnell's proposal of ground-floor retail was "the reason why I didn't object to the project," which involved tearing down the historic Pearson House. "I'm basically tired of developers going back on their agreements. I think they are just taking the easy way out because they have a major business moving in that wants a break room."

While city staff originally pushed for the retail space to be included in the project, they recommended approval of Burnell's request to use the ground-floor space as an employee break room.

"This small retail space will improve the pedestrian friendliness of the building," wrote a city staff member in a July 2012 City Council report for Burnell's project, which provoked controversy for years because it sought to replace a historic home on the site, and led to fears that it would tower above Chez TJ, the neighboring gourmet restaurant.

The report adds that the applicant provided this area, designated a "commercial/restaurant space," at staff's request. It also allowed Burnell to have an exemption from providing required parking spaces, according to city documents, which add that "parking in-lieu fees" must be paid if the space is not occupied by commercial, retail or restaurant use.

Critics say an increasing amount of ground-floor office development in downtown Mountain View is slowly eating away at what's considered to be a key component of a vibrant downtown: ground-floor retail space.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

Comments

Posted by Wanting a Better City, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 5, 2014 at 11:39 pm

The Council should not allow a break room. This is just another way that big companies are ruining the city by bringing in too many employees without the right city infrastructure.

The Council should be focusing on doing everything it can to increase retail, restaurant and housing space while minimizing any additional office space. Putting in a break room here reduces retail space and effectively increase the number of potential employees in that office.

And if the developer is whining there is not enough parking to get a good tenant - that is the developer's problem. Better to force the developer to keep it vacant or rent it at money-losing rate to a retail that helps make the city a better place.


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