Almost 100 years after Minton's Lumber and Supply opened up near the downtown train station, the council will consider a preliminary "gatekeeper request" for 200 apartments on the 3.5-acre lot. The 57-units-per-acre project would be among the highest density residential developments in the city.
Debby Shulz, Minton's president, says the business has been hit hard by the current economic climate and by competition from big box retailers. Shulz said her mother and father have decided to lease the property to a housing developer if feasible.
In past recessions, Minton's customers would simply scale back their home construction projects. "But this recession is different," Shulz said. "People are losing jobs, losing their 401(k) money — everyone is just really tightening up."
Council member Jac Siegel said it was "sad news" that the city could lose the family-run business — a place where the employees are known for their helpful service.
Part of city history
Minton's was originally a branch yard for Parkinson Bros. Lumber and Hardware, which opened in 1897 on what was then known as Front Street, conveniently located alongside the railroad tracks.
After a honeymoon trip to Mountain View, Nebraska businessman Earl Minton bought the lumber yard in 1911 and opened up a thriving retail operation. As the city grew, Minton went into the home building business, constructing "Palmitas Park," a 1924 subdivision that still stands on Loreto, Velarde and Anza streets. Minton would later become mayor of Mountain View.
The current family of owners came on the scene in 1965, when Herb Eaton, who had traveled from Vermont, purchased the business. After Eaton retired in 2007, Shulz, his eldest daughter, took over the day to day business operations. Eaton's retirement is another contributing factor to the sale, Shulz said.
In 1995 a "suspicious fire" — one of the largest in the city's history — burned much of the business and caused millions of dollars in damages. Eaton told the Voice that several real estate developers had made offers on the property before the fire.
Proposal tests the waters
Seeking a lease deal for the site is Prometheus Real Estate Group Inc., the same company that owns the Americana apartment complex on Continental Circle and developed the five-story Park Place condos on the 700 block of Castro St.
The proposed buildings would be four stories tall along Evelyn Avenue and taper to two stories along Villa Street. Plans include an underground parking garage and a small courtyard.
"The density is very similar to Park Place," said city development director Randy Tsuda.
The design is preliminary, however, and may not pass muster with the City Council.
"It's a quality developer — that's the good news," Siegel said. "But they need to scale back the project somewhat."
Siegel said it was good to develop near the train station, but that there would still be numerous cars. "Its going to cause a lot more parking issues than we have already," he said.
A development proposal made last year for the same block may provide some indication on how the council may react. Developer Classic Communities sought to replace the auto shops at Abate's Industrial Square with three-story row homes. Though the project was less dense than the Prometheus proposal, Classic Communities pulled it from the council agenda at the last minute, apparently predicting a rejection by council.
Posing another problem for the proposal is the city's "precise plan" for the block, which says residential buildings cannot exceed three stories. However, the city's general plan update may bring changes to the precise plan.
Tuesday's decision will determine only whether city staff will refine the proposal for future consideration. "We're not okaying a project," Siegel said.
Shulz wanted to make it clear that the development proposal did not mean Minton's was closing. She said the business would remain open for at least a few more years as the project goes through the planning process.