Next Tuesday the City Council will finally decide on a development that has been the source of contentious debate over the last year: a proposal to build 64 homes on the Hetch Hetchy right of way at Whisman Road.
Due to a study session last year where council members were critical of the project's size, the number of units has been reduced from 69 to 64 units, and building heights from 34 to 29 feet. But neighbors say the project is still too tall and dense, creating a three-story wall that will replace the view of the mountains from some neighbors' back yards.
"Give us 40 beautiful homes that have some green potential," said neighbor Ev Shafrir.
The new plan shows 58 row homes, still three stories tall but split into smaller clusters. A "tot lot" has been added at one end of the site, and a "meditation park" was included to break up some of the row homes.
Despite those alterations, on March 26 the city's zoning administrator, Peter Gilli, recommended that the council deny the project, saying the changes were insufficient.
Meanwhile, the project has gained the support of some environmentalists, including the Sierra Club and the Greenbelt Alliance.
The project provides "housing close to nearby jobs and urban bicycle paths, as the development straddles the Hetch Hetchy trail," wrote Aaron Grossman, an active member of the Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association, on the group's e-mail list.
"This is an emotionally charged issue," Grossman continued. "One resident near the proposed development, who seems otherwise environmentally oriented, told me he quit the Sierra Club over its support of the project <0x2014> he did not want anyone promoting any development of housing that differed from his own full-lot-sized conventional detached single-family home, preferably single story."
An online petition for a "quality development at 450 S. Whisman" had 52 signatures on Tuesday to reduce the project to 40 homes and reduce heights to two stories. Grossman said that would affect the project's financial viability.
Developer Bruce Burman defended the project Tuesday, saying, "We developed a plan in concert with the city of Mountain View for over two years, working diligently and cooperatively with the city staff. It requires no variances or zoning change. It's ideal."
Burman says the zoning allows row homes to be up to 45 feet, a lot higher than his plan.
"We understood that was way too high." Burman said. "When we came in at 34 feet we felt that was addressing that issue."
Council member Jac Siegel sees the project as an example of why row homes should not be allowed in the R2 zone at all. Siegel said two groups of row homes squeezed in the northwest corner of the site need to be completely removed from the plan.
In an e-mail, zoning administrator Gilli said the project fits the zoning, but is not compatible with the surrounding neighborhood. He cited a city ordinance which says that "in some cases, compatibility with surrounding development may dictate that a residential development may not be allowed at the maximum density."
Burman, based in Marin, has been a developer for 25 years, but never in Mountain View.
"We think Mountain View is a great place to develop," he said. "We like the whole concept of infill development for new housing near jobs, the opportunity to not have to commute. You can walk or bike to work. The site has that possibility."
On March 6, the council's advisory group of architects also rejected the new plan, saying the changes required a major redesign rather than modifications to the old design.
According to the meeting minutes, committee members thought the new buildings "were repetitious, monotonous and had less variety than the previous version." They also said the new single-family homes required major design changes to look appealing.
Burman said the architectural style isn't much different than his previous plan, which the committee approved.
The new roof design will allow for solar panels, Burman said, though neighbors didn't believe the pitch of the roof was right for that.
As to whether the panels would be included, "We haven't determined whether we will do that right out the gate," Burman said.
Recently, the neighborhood association put its own story poles in the open lot and created a rendering of what the 29-foot-tall homes would look like from the back yard of association president Lisa Matichak. Even with five feet taken off the top, the new homes are still overwhelming, she says.