The chambers were packed with neighbors opposed to the project, but there were a handful of environmental groups and housing advocates in support of it as well.
The project seemed threatened earlier this year by the new council, which had talked about making many changes to a large plan inherited from last year's "pro-growth" council.
"We have to strike a balance," said council member Margaret Abe-Koga.
Another member of the council's slower-growth contingent, Ronit Bryant, recused herself from the meeting because her husband works for Hewlett Packard, which still owns the site.
Council member Jac Siegel, who in the past has had harsh words for the project, said the 26 acres ideally should be turned into one big park, but unfortunately "that's just not in the cards." He said people hoped the decision wouldn't divide the Monta Loma neighborhood, and that in the end everyone could say, "We didn't get what we wanted, but we sure tried."
The major opponents of the project, residents and members of the Monta Loma Neighborhood Association, were under the leadership of newly elected president Wouter Suverkropp. He said the negative impacts of the large high-density development concern many residents.
"They feel the development affects them even if they don't live next to it," Suverkropp said, adding that residents think, "We may be next."
Nola Mae McBain, a former president of the Monta Loma group, said the project is "not smart growth — this is irresponsible growth." She said there is little access to public transportation and not enough space in nearby schools to accommodate the children who will live in the new housing.
Several neighbors criticized a major selling point of the project — that it is easily accessible to the San Antonio Caltrain station and within biking distance of the bus station near Wal-Mart. Neighbor Andy Rose said Caltrain service at the San Antonio station has been reduced to one train per hour.
In response, council members noted that it was enough that there was simply "transit-oriented potential." Macias said she had inquired about getting more service once Mayfield is developed.
"They don't increase service unless they have a demand for service," said council member Matt Pear.
With a long night ahead of them — the meeting ran until 1 a.m. — and passions running high, Macias was compelled to tell speakers to keep their comments brief, especially if the council had heard their opinions at previous meetings.
"Believe me, we remember," she said.
Neighbors reminded the council of the traffic impacts of roughly 1,000 more cars on the road, assuming each household drives two cars. But Abe-Koga said the old Hewlett Packard offices on the site had 2,000 employees and likely even more cars than the proposed housing.
From an aesthetic standpoint, Suverkropp criticized the architecture of the proposed buildings, saying "they could be anywhere in America."
He continued by saying, "These homes will do nothing to alleviate housing shortage or housing price."
Council member Nick Galiotto had a difficult time speaking due to laryngitis, but reflected briefly on his long involvement with the project, which began with the city's housing element in the late 1990s. He said the city had been under "pretty good pressure" from the state and the Association of Bay Area Governments to build homes or face the loss of local control over housing projects.
He said the project was indeed transit-oriented growth, noting the increasing prevalence of biking, which could be used to get to nearby office buildings and bus stops, and the potential of the San Antonio train stop to increase service.
"If you don't create the opportunities, obviously none of that is going to happen," Galiotto said.
Siegel initially made a motion for 400 units, a 55-foot height limit and $1 million towards additional park space. Toll Brothers had proposed 3.4 acres. The motion failed with only Macias in support.
Council member Tom Means made the winning motion for 450 units, existing height limits and $4 million towards park space.
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