Rather than a shopping center to serve the needs of local residents, it appears that the developer is promoting a "Village" concept that includes high-rise office buildings, a 165-room hotel, and a movie theater on the property, which is ostensibly patterned after Santana Row in San Jose but most likely without the high-end retailers.
Instead, we see 500,000 square feet of office space (enough for 1,600 employees), a seven-story hotel, a movie theater, and 330 units of housing, all of which is expected to create a vibrant shopping experience anchored by a grocery store. We doubt any local merchants will be able to afford space in this complex, which already turned heads by asking as much as $4,090 a month in rent for a two-bedroom apartment of 1,459 square feet.
Rather than rubber stamp this "Village" design, which council member Jac Siegel said "the city has not seen before," the council should step back and take another look.
So far, the council has taken only a non-binding straw vote on whether to require a precise plan for this project, which showed four members in favor of moving ahead, with Siegel and John McAlister opposed. Mayor John Inks, who owns property nearby, did not vote. Siegel and McAlister believe, as we do, that a specific plan focused on the shopping center needs to be completed before the city allows work to proceed on phase two of this project.
Such a plan would force the developer to conduct impact reports on the various parts of the design that otherwise would escape such scrutiny. The process could take up to two years, certainly a drawback for Merlone Geier, but the alternative is to give the plan a green light, with impacts to the busiest intersection in Mountain View for years to come.
Also, Mountain View parents whose children attend schools in the Los Altos School District are concerned that more than 1,000 new homes are coming to the San Antonio neighborhood, and urged the council to help "create a new school site in the Mountain View area... ."
Sadly, a number of businesses on San Antonio Road that serve the local community have already been bought out or forced out. Baron Park Plumbing Supply, an institution for professionals and amateurs alike on San Antonio Road, took a buyout offer and opened on El Camino Real. And the Halal Market at 391 San Antonio also moved away, giving the green light for the developer to demolish the historic building that once housed the Shockley Labs, said by some to be the birthplace Silicon Valley. Merlone Geier said it will build a display commemorating the place where silicon semiconductor technology was introduced to the Valley at 391 San Antonio Road.
And the Milk Pail, perhaps the most loved local business in the center, will be able to maintain its operation only until 2016, when the agreement to lease parking space for its customers runs out. After that, it is not clear how the Milk Pail, which owns its site in the center, will continue to operate.
Esther's German Bakery is another casualty that closed its doors in the center, although it does maintain a retail shop on San Antonio Road, across the street from the center.
Unless the council changes its mind before the final vote, the city will have no say in how these and other issues inside the boundaries of the center will be managed.
In voicing his support for a more detailed planning process for Merlone Geier's second phase, council member John McAlister noted that he promised during his election campaign to to put "residents first." He said residents will be impacted by the "traffic, by the noise, by the air" pollution and called for a large park to come with the project.
Another option for the council is to require the developer to provide numerous "public benefits" such as parks, affordable housing and more bike and pedestrian improvements. But such a solution misses the core issue, which is how these developments will impact the community near San Antonio Road. The only way to answer that question is for the city to create a new precise plan for this property.