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Publication Date: Friday, May 11, 2001

"I have always felt we should decrease the density of offices in other areas of the city, and not just increase density along rail lines." @dropname:Council member Mary Lou Zoglin "Financial institutions haven't bought into the idea of public transit yet." @dropname:Mike Percy, principal planner for Mountain View

Orchard redevelopment approved by council Orchard redevelopment approved by council (May 11, 2001)

Conversion of Ferguson property leaves city one remaining orchard

By Justin Scheck

Plans to develop one of Mountain View's two remaining orchards, a 9.46-acre plot at 500 Ferguson Drive, were finalized Tuesday when the City Council approved a zoning change that will pave the way for two new office buildings to be erected on the site.

Granted initial approval in January by the Environmental Planning Commission, the redevelopment project will feature two four-story, 114,000-square-foot office buildings landscaped with orchard trees. The project is being handled by the Foster City- based Sares Regis Group. EFL Development, a corporation that includes members of the Kalcic family, which has historically owned the property, will retain ownership rights.

Since the development will be along the VTA light rail line, the area has been rezoned with a "transit overlay designation" that allows higher density development than other zoning designations, and requires fewer parking spaces than other kinds of commercial zoning. The transit overlay also requires developers make transit-related improvements to the site.

The transit-related improvements for this project include the development of the light rail trail, a "pool car" for employees who take mass transit to work, and an open space area adjacent to the rail line. The question of whether this space will be open to the public was a central topic of discussion at Tuesday's meeting.

The developers plan to provide parking for 738 cars, which they will accommodate in an underground parking lot with some aboveground spaces. Additional open space on the property will be reserved to convert to parking if needed.

Based on its floor area, the development would have required 760 parking spaces without the transit overlay. The transit designation permits a 20 percent reduction.

"This project is one of the first projects to request a reduction in the parking requirement. It's not much. It's 3 percent," said Mike Percy, the city's principal planner.

Percy said that in the long term, efforts to increase the density of development along transit lines are intended to get people out of their cars and into mass transit.

But Percy said investors have been reluctant to provide funding for projects that have reduced parking.

"Financial institutions haven't bought into the idea of public transit yet," said Percy. He noted that in California especially, public transportation has not been regarded as a viable means of commuting.

But with the recent advent of the VTA light rail, and Mountain View's efforts to put office space along the light rail corridor, the city hopes to encourage increased use of the light rail.

Percy said that while planning efforts may not result in an immediate switch from automobile to mass transit commuting, the development of an infrastructure that supports mass transit sets the stage for a reduction in car commuting.

Percy said the city estimated that "about 8 percent" of the workers at the new development will use mass transit. "That's not huge, but about five years ago it was only about 5 percent" throughout the city, he said.

However, at Tuesday's council meeting, Drew Hudacek, the Sares-Regis spokesman for the project, said that even five years from now, only about 5 percent of the workers at the development will use mass transit to commute.

Hudacek said a transportation consultant working on the project made this projection. But he said the developers hope to have more people commuting via light rail.

At Tuesday's meeting, the central issue discussed by council members was whether a one-third-acre piece of land adjacent to the light rail line would be left as public park space or private open space.

While the city's planning department and Sares Regis representatives intended the area to be public space, Hudacek said that prospective tenants have expressed concern that the area, which would be hard to patrol because of its inaccessibility to roads, could pose a safety hazard for employees.

The council granted the developers' request to make the area private, but Council members Rosemary Stasek and Mary Lou Zoglin voted against the project because they wanted the developer to provide added amenities to substitute for the loss of open space.

Stasek asked the developer to consider building public water fountains and benches along the trail that leads to the light rail stations, while Zoglin asked that two pool cars be provided instead of one. Hudacek said Wednesday that he did not think another pool car was necessary, but that the developers will consider providing one, as well as water fountains and benches.

Both Stasek and Zoglin said they like the project overall. Zoglin said she has long been wary of the transit overlay zoning designation.

"It will bring more traffic. I have always felt we should decrease the density of offices in other areas of the city, and not just increase density along rail lines," said Zoglin.

She said that, while the transit overlay increases the amount of office space on the site because of its proximity to public transit, the increased floor area ratio will still lead to more automobile traffic on city streets.

"Even though it's along light rail, 90 percent of the extra people coming to the site will be in their cars," she said.

Stasek said that, while this may be the case, she feels that, through transit improvements and increasingly bad car traffic, the number of commuters using mass transit will increase.

Percy said that this rift between planning and usage-the difference between increasing density and increasing mass transit use-generally takes some years to bridge. "They start far apart, and then they come together over a long period of time," he said.

The orchard on Ferguson Drive consists primarily of apricot trees in various stages of ill health. It has not been commercially harvested since the 1970s. All of the nearly 200 trees will be removed, with the exception of a large black walnut tree. The developers plan to landscape the area with over 600 trees.

The site is adjacent to Mountain View's only working orchard, which is owned by the Franzia brothers of Sunnyvale.


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