City officials say they received an unsolicited offer to buy the property from owner Frances Stieper for the land at 771 North Rengstorff Ave., near Old Middlefield Road. Council members on Tuesday unanimously approved the $3 million purchase price. It includes a garden, a 1953 home and 125 trees, half of which are fairly large "heritage trees" according to the city.
John Miguel, retired Mountain View firefighter, said he had come to know Stieper well after meeting the elderly woman on a medical call. He said he volunteered to help her maintain the property when he realized she was "doing things I didn't want her to do, like getting on the roof and taking leaves off."
"It's an amazing piece of property," Miguel said. "It is an amazing thing she's come to you to say she wants it turned into a park. I hope we will consider her wishes in this. I want to publicly thank Frances for being a dear, dear friend and for giving back to the city."
Stieper kept a file "three inches thick on developers that want to develop that property for profit," Miguel said. "She didn't contact them."
While council members didn't decide on a use of the land Tuesday, members appeared grateful for the opportunity to buy it.
"I thought, 'What a gift,'" said council member Margaret Abe-Koga.
"We've talked about needing open space in that area, so it's perfect. It is an absolutely gorgeous piece of property."
Using it for park space is "going to be a strong consideration."
Condo-dwelling neighbors of the site also praised the beauty of the property, saying their views of it from their windows was a reason they moved in.
"This is a beautiful property and I'm really happy you are considering buying it," said Shani Kleinhaus, wildlife advocate for the Audubon Society. "I don't see a reason to go really quickly into clearing vegetation (which is) important to what lives there."
Until a plan can be made for the site, council members voted not to demolish the 60-year-old house on the property, said to be in "fair condition." Stieper built with her husband in the early 1950s.
"To develop the home there now, it took them three years," Miguel said. "It is solid redwood. That house is amazing. Every brick that's laid in that house, the tile and cabinets, everything was done by Frances and her (late) husband Vern, incredibly talented individuals."
Neighbors want a park
After having called for more park space in the area for years, residents of the neighboring Monta Loma neighborhood backed the land purchase.
"The more parks, the better in this area," said Monta Loma resident Elna Tymes, who has noted a significant disparity in park space per-capita for residents living north of El Camino Real. "It's under-served."
Though it's been a goal to have a mini-park in the city within walking distance of every resident, the adjacent blocks of homes don't have one. The nearest parks are Thaddeus and Sierra Vista, which for many require crossing busy Middlefield Road or Rengstorff Avenue or both. The crosswalk in front of Thaddeus park across Middlefield Road is in the middle of a blind corner, Tymes says, and at an intersection with no stoplight.
"It's mostly apartments right along Rengstorff and then along Middlefield," Tymes said. "There are families that live there with small children. Where do they go to get out and play?"
Firefighters have more recently spent "hours" helping Stieper around her property, said firefighter Greg Cooper.
"We had firefighters out there chopping wood, cutting down trees," Cooper said. He said Stieper hoped that the space would be made a park and that "people would be able to enjoy the blossoming trees and fruit that came from those trees that meant a lot to her."
Miguel said that Stieper has an amazing garden on the site with "the most delicious artichokes you'll ever eat."
"If you do turn it into a park, I'd like to talk to you about the name of the park," Miguel said.
The price tag
The $3 million would come from the city's "strategic property acquisition fund," which has been used to assemble properties and spur private redevelopment downtown.
"A (private) housing development of some type would probably be more appropriate there," said Mayor John Inks before the meeting, explaining why he might vote against the purchase. He ended up voting for it. "
On top of the $3 million price, there is another $400,000 in costs, including $150,000 for demolishing the house, $207,000 in administrative costs and $25,000 to relocate Stieper, who is allowed to live on the site 90 days after the sale. The $3.4 million total could be repaid by the park fees the city levies on development.
Council members expressed concern about how extensive the city's planned "cleanup" of the site would be. City staff members said it would be limited to removing dead tree branches and foliage at the front of the site to allow police to see into the property.