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Publication Date: Friday, March 30, 2001

Council rezones residential property to office Council rezones residential property to office (March 30, 2001)

EPC had recommended Wagon Wheel site for multifamily residential

By Justin Scheck

The city council decided Tuesday to rezone a residential property on Middlefield Road to accommodate office space rather than housing as recommended by the Environmental Planning Commission.

With Mountain View in the midst of a housing crisis, the issue of rezoning existing residential property into office space was a contentious one for the council. The measure passed on 4-3 vote, with Council members Rosemary Stasek, Sally Lieber, and Mary Lou Zoglin dissenting.

The 1.15-acre site had been occupied by the Wagon Wheel Bar, a community landmark made famous as a meeting place for Silicon Valley's founders. According to Mike Percy, the city's principal planner, about two-thirds of the site had been zoned residential, and one-third office/retail.

When the site's owner, Stephen Gazzera, went before the Environmental Planning Commission last December to request the zoning be changed to accommodate a commercial project, the commission denied the request, and instead recommended that the council rezone the property as a multifamily residential designation.

"As I recall, the reason behind the planning commission's recommendation is there was residential already on several sides of that property, and it is not easy to find sites that would accommodate housing well," said Planning Commissioner Carol Moholt.

Moholt said the site's ability to accommodate housing, combined with the city's current housing/jobs imbalance, prompted the commission to recommend multifamily residential zoning.

Percy indicated multifamily zoning permits "up to 18 units to the acre," and thus could accommodate apartments, condominiums, townhouses, or small-lot single-family residences.

Council members were divided on the issue.

"It just seemed to me so absolutely obvious that we should be delighted to have the area for housing," Zoglin said. "In the course of our campaigning, from my recollection, we all said we would be looking for more sites for housing. I was frankly amazed," she added.

Stasek said that rezoning residential property to office is going in "completely the wrong direction" from what the city should be doing in terms of attacking the jobs/housing imbalance.

But Mayor Mario Ambra maintained the site was not suitable for housing, due to its proximity to a gas station.

"The applicant requested office, and that's what he wanted to build. Why build housing near a gas station?" Ambra asked, adding that in his opinion, the loss of residential property is offset by the large Whisman Station development in the area. The Whisman Station site had been a commercial property before being rezoned as residential. "I think everything balances itself out," Ambra said.

Council member Ralph Faravelli expressed concerns about the gas station. He also worries about building high-density housing developments that will deteriorate in the future.

"I've lived here through some of the things we've done in Mountain View in the '50s and '60s, and seen some of the slum developments we bought in the '90s (to redevelop)," Faravelli said. "If you don't plan properly, you'll have problems." He added that numerous residents living near the former Wagon Wheel site said they would prefer office space over housing.

Council member Mike Kasperzak, who voted in favor of the commercial zoning, said the nearby gas station, the site's location on Middlefield Road, and the city's need for more small office space convinced him that housing was not the best use for the site.

Stasek said that Kasperzak, a self-described affordable-housing advocate, may now face questions from the community about his commitment to increasing the city's housing stock.

"I am a housing advocate," Kasperzak said. "I'm interested in seeing about density in the downtown areas, but I don't think you should just put housing wherever it can go." He added that while the housing crisis is forcing residents from Mountain View, a shortage of small office space is forcing small- to medium-sized businesses from the city.

Gazzera said Wednesday he was pleased with the council's decision, and has directed his real-estate agent to seek out child-care providers who might be interested in building a facility on the site. Gazzera had been working on a deal with Netscape/AOL to build a child-care center there, but the company pulled out, citing economic uncertainty.

Gazzera is still investigating his options for developing the site, but has no concrete plans at the moment.

The site's future, he said, is "completely up in the air." 


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