Denser housing on way out?
Slower-growth council re-examines city policies, may kill R4 zoning next year
A majority of the City Council sent a message to developers Tuesday that it wants "quality over quantity" in housing projects as it reconsiders city policies that increase housing density.
Council members voted 5-2 to rescind a guideline set up by the previous council that asks developers to provide an explanation when they can't develop housing projects within 80 percent of the zoned density. Council members Nick Galiotto and Matt Pear were opposed.
The council also decided 4-3 to re-examine R4 zoning, the city's highest density zoning at 60 units per acre, which was established last year by the previous council.
Council member Jac Siegel made the proposal to rescind the 80 percent guideline, saying that it told developers to "bring the numbers first and we'll worry about the quality later."
Council members Margaret Abe-Koga, Ronit Bryant and Laura Macias agreed.
"The density is not the problem," Bryant said. "The message I want to send out is quality."
Earlier Tuesday, developer Classic Communities pulled its project at 209-251 Evelyn Avenue from Tuesday's council agenda. The project is slated to replace a dozen auto shops with 96 row homes and condos. Council members said it would have come in at 96 percent of the density allowed.
On Wednesday, Siegel said he wasn't sure why the project was pulled, but he imagined that the developer had talked to enough council members to realize that its project needed changes, like a larger open space and better parking.
"There's been a lot of talk about this old council that did a lot of bad stuff," Pear said. "I did not support the 80 percent rule, but this time I would go along with it. Housing is a crucial item, there's a pent-up demand for it."
Council member Nick Galiotto said the issue was "academic" because the housing element of the city's general plan already encourages development to the maximum zoned density, and that policy can't be changed easily.
When the slower growth council was elected a year ago, many touted an update to the general plan as an alternative to "piecemeal" city planning. But the general plan update could take a few years, and Macias questioned whether the council wants to wait that long to take on the R4 zoning issue. Only one project has been approved in Mountain View under R4 zoning — the condo project at 291 Evandale Ave. — and two others were rejected this year, one on Rengstorff Avenue and one on El Camino Real. The upcoming study session on R4 zoning, scheduled for sometime early next year, could mean the death of R4.
Sal Caruso, the architect for 291 Evandale Ave., opposed getting rid of R4 zoning, saying that the council already had plenty of tools at its disposal to lower project density. He also said a lot of work had gone into creating the high-density option.
At the same time the council reconsiders R4 zoning, it will also discuss whether to allow higher density row homes in areas zoned R2 for single family detached homes. That scenario has yet to be a problem, though the development proposed for 450 Whisman Road, on Hetch Hetchy open space, was slated to allow 69 row homes on an R2 lot.
Council members Pear, Galiotto and Tom Means opposed the study session on the R4 zoning and R2 row home issues.
"That's very much a change in direction, no question about it," Pear said about the consideration of stopping both practices.
E-mail Daniel DeBolt at email@example.com