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Publication Date: Friday, February 23, 2001

PULL QUOTEs:

The Whisman Road site of Air Products is "one of the most heavily regulated sites in Mountain View," says planner Brad Eckhardt.

"We'll be getting a sort of industrial chemical use out of the area, which is really an improvement." John Lovewell, developer

Industrial chemical site in transition: Air Products to be redeveloped as offices Industrial chemical site in transition: Air Products to be redeveloped as offices (February 23, 2001)

By Justin Scheck

The Air Products site at 369-465 N. Whisman Rd. will be added to the Mountain View Research Center, the campus that houses Netscape and AOL/Time Warner, and redeveloped as office space.

As the birthplace of some of Silicon Valley's earl technical accomplishments, Mountain View saw tremendous growth as the home to some of the semiconductor industry's most important chip makers.

But the last 10 years have seen change, as manufacturing moved out and programming and Web design moved in.

A last step in this shift was taken this week, when it became clear that the industrial chemical supplier Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., would be closing down its facility to make room for a planned addition to the adjacent Mountain View Research Center, which currently provides campus-style office space to Netscape and AOL/Time Warner.

A multinational corporation with over $5 billion in annual revenues, Air Products has operated on the five-acre site at 369-465 N. Whisman Rd. for over 30 years, storing and distributing some volatile--and hazardous-- gases and chemicals to Silicon Valley industries.

According to Fire Marshall Gary Leinweber, Air Products currently houses 13 cubic feet of arsene gas, a deadly gaseous form of arsenic, as well as hydrogen chloride and other corrosive chemicals.

Ted Smith, executive director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, a non-profit group that advocates cleanup of hazardous chemical waste, said the arsene gas at Air Products, if pure, is "enough to kill a whole lot of people."

While the company is not a known polluter in Mountain View, Air Products has been implicated by the Environmental Protection Agency as a "potentially responsible party" in heavily polluted sites in at least 10 states.

A number of these sites have been placed on the EPA's "Superfund" list, which administers cleanup of the country's most polluted sites by having polluting companies remove the contamination.

"Air Products is one of the most heavily regulated sites in Mountain View," said Brad Eckhardt, a Mountain View city planner. Air Products is located on top of the Middlefield-Ellis-Whisman (MEW) Superfund site, although the EPA has made clear that Air Products is not responsible for the pollution.

The groundwater beneath the MEW site is contaminated with chlorinated solvents and other byproducts of the semiconductor industry.

Beth Mentesana, a corporate spokesperson at Air Products' corporate headquarters in Allentown, Penn., said the company sold the site on "Dec. 28, 1999," but said she did not know whether all of the Mountain View operations would move to Santa Clara.

According to a site plan provided to city council, the new development at the Mountain View site will add a total of three buildings, with 236,000 square feet of office space, to the existing campus.

In order for the new buildings to go up, the council had to approve a zoning change for the site, designating it a transit-oriented development.

The "transit overlay" zoning allows developers to build projects with a floor area amounting to 50 percent of the area's property, as opposed to the 35 percent allowed for a non-transit-oriented development.

However, the Air Products site does not lie within the 2,000 feet of the Middlefield light rail station required for the transit overlay; in order for it to qualify, the council had to approve a property-line change that would incorporate the site into the existing Netscape campus.

John Lovewell, head of development firm Keenan-Lovewell, the owner of the Netscape campus and developer of the Air Products site, said, "We'd been working on expanding (the campus) since before we knew we could buy the (Air Products) site."

Lovewell would not say what he paid for the parcel.

He said the addition will benefit the city by bringing a more appropriate use to the site. "We'll be getting a sort of industrial chemical use out of the area, which is really an improvement," said Lovewell.

Moreover, he said the design of the area would consolidate traffic flow onto Ellis Street, moving it away from the residential areas on North Whisman Road.

Council member Rosemary Stasek agreed, saying that by consolidating the Air Products and Netscape parcels into one campus, traffic will be focused on a single site, rather than on multiple sites with multiple entrances.

Stasek said the development "is consistent with the area that it's in. It also avoids development sprawl, by consolidating it on the campus."

"I think it pretty much goes along with the intention of the general plan for that area," said Council member Matt Pear.

But Mayor Mario Ambra said he has reservations about building more office space in a city where there is a severe housing shortage, and while he voted to approve the project, he preceded his vote by saying that, in the future, he would like to see housing options investigated for such sites.

"There's no corporate housing (in Mountain View), and we want to put housing on the site," said Ambra. "And, it's almost out of the transit zone... The issue is, we're creating this higher (office) density, so why don't we incorporate housing into the mix?"

Stasek said that while she, too, would like housing on the site, she does not feel it is possible.

"For any development, I have to ask 'What options do we have for housing?'... But putting housing on a Superfund site is, I don't think, a reasonable thing to consider," she said.

Lovewell said that when he was developing the Netscape campus, extensive research was done into the safety of the site for industrial uses.

"When we bought the property, we did an enormous amount of research... (Researchers) went over all the public records, and did a lot of analysis, and so did our lenders, who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars analyzing it. And so did Netscape, and we feel very comfortable with it, and so does Netscape," said Lovewell.

Another question regarding the site is whether the transit overlay, which Stasek said is meant to "put more people near transit," actually encourages more people to take mass transit.

"Before we add higher density, we need to know if building high density along the light rail is working," said Ambra.

Stasek said that, in her opinion, putting more office space along transit lines is the most feasible way for the city to encourage increased use of commuter transit. 


 

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