Council members were faced with five "gatekeeper requests" to allow the planning process to begin on four large housing projects across the city and to modify a previous request for a large office campus at 690 East Middlefield Road. Only three of the requests got the green light for planning, including a Prometheus Real Estate Group proposal for a 285-unit housing project to replace the Safeway grocery store on California Avenue, which is set to move to El Camino Real. Prometheus can also begin to design a 160-unit apartment complex to replace the Tropicana Lodge at 1720 El Camino Real. Both projects may be up to four stories in height.
Archstone Apartments got the go ahead for modifications to a 333-unit apartment project that was previously allowed through the gate. The modification allows an increase from three to four stories adjacent to the neighborhood of one- and two-story homes, but doesn't increase the unit count. The project replaces existing apartments at 870 East El Camino Real next to the Sunnyvale border.
Not so lucky was City Ventures, a residential developer proposing 28 row houses at 1951 Colony Avenue. Council members denied the request saying it would convert industrial space that could be used by small startup companies. Council member John Inks was the only one to vote in support of the project, citing the demand for housing in the city.
Also not receiving a favorable decision was Dostart Development, which was looking for some assurance that the council would allow a high density (1.0 floor area ratio or FAR) for its office project at 690 East Middlefield Road. A majority of Council balked at giving Dostart special treatment by separating the project from the city's ongoing efforts to rezone the neighborhood in the city's general plan update.
Dostart wants to accommodate a major corporation next year and although the city's general plan is supposed to be finished early next year, it has already faced several delays that Dostart apparently did not want to be subjected to any further. Dostart will now have to wait for the general plan update like every other developer.
"Having another good corporate campus is probably important to the city," said council member Mike Kasperzak. "This might be a place that's appropriate for 1.0 (FAR) even if the rest of Whisman area isn't. I would support the gatekeeper request."
In the end, Kasperzak and members John Inks and Tom Means were the only ones to support the special request.
"We did outreach to hundreds if not thousands" of residents to update the general plan, said Mayor Jac Siegel. "We got our input and we're coming along and we're being asked to go around it, right away." He later added, "I don't believe you should zone for the ups and downs in the economy."
Means criticized the city's slow general plan process.
"Here we are still thinking about it and people are thinking, 'What can I build?'" Means said. "I haven't heard one argument tonight what a reasonable FAR is. I don't know what it is and I don't think anyone else on this council knows. We won't bear the costs of this, it's not a dime out of our pocket. A lot of people thought this (general plan) would be done a few years ago. I guess we're still working on drafts of it."