Greens clash with neighbors over 'Hawthorn Park'
Council favors lowering height of row homes proposed for Hetch Hetchy open space
The city's growth pains reached an unexpected intensity Tuesday night as environmentalists in favor of dense housing clashed with neighbors of a proposed development at 450 N. Whisman Road.
Ninety-six three story row homes had been proposed on six acres — a rectangular open lot between Whisman Road and Tyrella Avenue that is bisected diagonally by the Hetch Hetchy right of way. The resulting configuration of homes, named "Hawthorn Park" by the developer, put what neighbors described as a 500-foot-long, 30-foot-high "wall" of three story row homes along their backyard fences.
Though as much as 77 feet would separate the new homes from the old, a slide show rendering created by one neighbor showed how the view from his backyard would be altered for the worse. Most residents wanted the area left as open space, especially since there is a documented lack of park space in that neighborhood.
The negative reaction from neighbors, which led to a three-hour discussion Tuesday night, surprised council member Nick Galiotto, who was among a council majority that favored reducing building heights down to two stories or, at most, 27 feet. Developer KMJ Urban Communities is expected to come back for another study session on the matter.
At least three council members — Jac Siegel, Ronit Bryant and Laura Macias — said the project should be significantly altered or rejected in favor of open space.
Local environmentalists showed unusual passion Tuesday, citing global warming as a key reason for Mountain View to build more housing.
"The housing crisis is out of control," said resident Tamara Colby, a member of the Sierra Club. "We have a severe housing-jobs imbalance. We need to open our hearts to our community — we need to share with others or we will all bake."
Colby said every home the council allows to be built would mean one more person wouldn't have to commute hours a day to work in Mountain View, decreasing carbon emissions.
"Because of their compactness, these houses are efficient to build," said local Sierra Club member Jennifer Andersen, who recommended they be built differently to allow solar panels.
The Hetch Hetchy trail will run along the front porches of the homes, which Council members Tom Means and Margaret Abe-Koga said would provide a unique opportunity for biking and walking to work. The trail runs between the Shoreline district and the Whisman area's industrial park.
"How often do you get to have a trail at your doorstep?" Means said.
One resident said he wanted "to step up and buy one of these homes." Compared to the neighbors, "I'm sure I represent a much larger group of people," he said.
Neighbors responded by saying that the $800,000 homes wouldn't be affordable, and another said there was no way the city could ever meet the huge demand for housing.
"Mountain View has done its share of housing," Siegel agreed.
The project has been in the works for two years, and though it fits the zoning in the general plan, council members were concerned about the lack of public input at the start. Some neighbors said real estate agents had told them the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission could never develop on the site. The SFPUC is in contract to sell the land to the developer.
"The issue of not having public input for two years into this project is deeply concerning to me," Abe-Koga said.
Meanwhile, three neighbors showed up Tuesday night to oppose a project that wasn't on the agenda: a community garden proposed along a different Hetch Hetchy right of way near Beatrice and Bonny streets.
Making a comment some thought was satire, one of the neighbor said, "We didn't understand it would be, essentially, high-density vegetable plots."
A community hearing to discuss the garden is planned for the Rengstorff Park Community Center on Nov. 15 at 6 p.m.
Other Council news
• Mayor Macias' pursuit of valet parking for visitors who aren't familiar with downtown Mountain View was rejected by the other council members, who said they couldn't justify spending over $20,000 of city money when the Bryant Street parking garage is still underutilized.
• Realizing the council might end up rejecting Home Depot altogether at San Antonio Shopping Center, members agreed to Ronit Bryant's request for another study session on the topic. Many members opposed the project at a session in March. City manager Kevin Duggan said that if there is a fundamental problem with Home Depot it would be good to have that discussion as soon as possible.
• The meeting was adjourned Tuesday in memory of Manuel Herrera, a longtime city employee and volunteer firefighter who recently passed away.
E-mail Daniel DeBolt at firstname.lastname@example.org