Mountain View Voice

News - July 4, 2014

Deal reached to save Milk Pail

Council delays San Antonio project, wants to add housing

by Daniel DeBolt

Milk Pail Market owner Steve Rasmussen and developer Merlone Geier announced Tuesday night that they had reached a last-minute deal to save the Milk Pail, before City Council members ultimately decided to delay the second phase of Merlone Geier's Village at San Antonio Center development in order to replace half the office space in the project with housing.

Addressing a major community concern while bolstering support for a controversial project, Mike Grehl of Merlone Geier said it was his pleasure to invite Rasmussen to the podium to announce the agreement in front of those who packed the City Council chambers Tuesday, July 1. The agreement grants Milk Pail customers access to 11 parking spaces in a nearby parking garage, enough to meet city requirements for the Milk Pail market to stay in business past 2016, when its current parking agreement expires.

"For the past several days my team has been working furiously on an agreement to allow the Milk Pail to remain in business where we have always been," Rasmussen said, adding that it would apply only "if and when phase two is approved."

Merlone Geier's second phase of development at the San Antonio shopping center is slated to replace Ross and BevMo at San Antonio Road and California Street. It includes a 167-room hotel, a large public square, 109,000 square feet of retail space, a 50,000-square-foot movie theater and a six-level parking garage with just over 1,300 parking spaces, and an office garage with 1,174 spaces.

"The length of the term is substantial and that would allow us to be around for quite a long time," Rasmussen said.

Grehl had previously said any further delays would kill the project, but was amenable when members voted 6-0 to delay the project and to study a compromise for more housing. It would remove one of two proposed six-story office buildings and replace it with what city staff said might be 115 housing units within the same footprint.

Inks can't vote

Council member John Inks had to leave the dais — the California Fair Political Practices Commission said that, even under new conflict of interest rules, Inks must continue to recuse himself from the project. Inks owns property within 500 feet of the San Antonio precise plan area, but Merlone Geier representatives sought a clarification of the rules in hopes that Inks could vote on the project. The FPPC determination was made just an hour before the meeting, clearing up confusion and concern that Inks would be a swing vote to approve an unpopular iteration of the project.

Housing needs

Residents of the 330 apartments in the first phase of Merlone Geier's development spoke in favor of phase two, but most people who packed the meeting called attention to the area's housing shortage and how adding as many as 2,500 office workers to the city in the two proposed office buildings would speed up the area's gentrification.

"There are a lot of beautiful things about this project, then there's this jobs-housing imbalance thing, and I can't not think about that," said Edie Keating of Peninsula Interfaith Action. "The jobs-housing imbalance distorts so many things in our community. It creates traffic jams and it breaks up families. In our church we see young folks and retirees leave our area. Communities are being broken up by this jobs-housing imbalance. It affects everyone, whether you are a renter or a homeowner. You've got a great project, you need to make it morally right by substituting the office for housing."

The group leading the effort to remove office space and add housing to the project isn't satisfied with the compromise proposed by Mayor Chris Clark to replace only half of the office space with housing. Merlone Geier said that removing all of the office space and replacing it with housing would trigger a lengthy delay to study the impacts and comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.

"We would like more than the compromise offers," said Lenny Siegel of the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View. "There are still too many jobs proposed."

Referendum threat

Siegel said that the group has yet to decide on a way forward, but said in an email that it seemed "unlikely" that a referendum petition would be circulated to gather over 3,400 signatures to put the project up for a public vote. The group had planned to put a referendum on the ballot if the project is approved before the San Antonio precise plan comes up for discussion to consider housing and other needs for the San Antonio area.

Grehl touted the $7 million in public benefits that would come with the Merlone Geier project, including a protected bike lane along California Street, a $300,000 monument to the birthplace of Silicon Valley at 391 San Antonio Road, new bike lanes on San Antonio Road and $750,000 toward a pedestrian tunnel under Central Expressway at the San Antonio train station, to which other developers in the area would contribute, according to Planning Director Randy Tsuda.

Grehl added that the project would bring $2.5 million to the city in the form of property taxes and sales tax revenue. An estimate of how much revenue would be created if the project were killed was not included; Merlone Geier has said it would alternatively build a two-story, 175,000-square-foot retail project along the southern half of the site, which the council had already approved with phase one several years ago. There would also be $5.3 million in below-market-rate housing fees, which council members said would pay for only about six subsidized homes for low-income residents.

"I want Mountain View to stay a diverse community," said resident Joan Bradovsky. "The only way to increase housing is to build it. Even if you build more and it's not affordable, at least it would take some pressure off (older housing stock). I hope you do that, you have the authority to do so."

"While I benefit from the housing-jobs imbalance on paper, I just think it's wrong," said longtime resident and homeowner Paul Davis, referring to how his property value is rising. "I agree it's a moral issue. The city has failed to address the housing-jobs imbalance and that's something I urge you to do ... so that our community can be whole."

Council members said they wished residents had been such advocates for controversial housing projects that they scaled back or killed in the past following public opposition, and they encouraged the public to continue their advocacy for housing. They said they would finish making most major decisions on the San Antonio precise plan — including whether to make housing a higher priority — at a July 8 study session to be held at the Senior Center.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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