The City Council unanimously approved another large housing project along Evelyn Avenue on Tuesday, and this one replaces a slew of auto shops with town homes that some say do not provide enough housing on the site.
With the approval of "Classics at Station 361" developer Classic Communities is set to build 45 detached homes and 20 attached homes at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Calderon Avenue. Two pairs of three-story buildings face Evelyn Avenue and two-story detached homes would face the residential neighborhood along Villa Street.
In a letter to the Council, the Valley Transportation Authority called for a project almost with almost four times as many homes on the 4.3 acre site, saying its proximity to the downtown transit center made it an ideal location for dense housing. But no one on the City Council said they shared that concern Tuesday. Only Mayor Ronit Bryant, who lives a few blocks away, was critical.
Bryant said she considered a vote against the project because of its street design.
"Alleys, courtyards, roads going nowhere, really degrades the character" of the neighborhood, Bryant said. "I'm hoping little squiggly alleys to fit in as many units as possible is not the way we are going."
City staff noted numerous "compromises" in the design, but nevertheless recommended the project's approval because it meets the city's "fundamental goal" of building housing in the area. Compromises include narrow, 20-foot wide streets, shortened garages, small rooms and smaller-than-usual lot sizes at 1,600 square feet instead of 2,000. Every home will have two parking spaces except one on an odd lot, which will have a one-car garage and no driveway.
The developer said the compromises were all necessary to make the project marketable and financially feasible.
"I'd like to say we have some credibility in this neighborhood," said Scott Ward of Classic Communities, adding that "I know we're not the easiest guys to work with." The two-story homes across the street from the nearby train station were built by Classic Communities in the 1990s.
The development will have a new public street that runs north-south to connect Villa to Evelyn at the west end of the site. And while some of the new streets are private and dead end at walls, one will be designated for the public right of way and runs east-west to connect Calderon Avenue to the new public street.
As for open space, the project meets city requirements by including small yards and 7,300 square feet of common open space in the center of the site, which includes a children's play area, shade trees and patio seating.
On Tuesday few residents spoke about the project. Robert Cox, a board member of the Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association, supported it.
The project will be built next to the controversial 203-unit development replacing Minton's Lumber and Supply. Debate over the Minton's development raged on the Old Mountain View neighborhood e-mail list earlier this year, but critical words have not been spoken there about the Classic Communities project.
While Minton's isn't going to be much taller at two- to four and a half stories in height, Classics at Station 361 will be 15 units per acre compared to the 60 units per acre at Minton's, made possible by an underground parking garage and larger apartment buildings.
A city staff report indicates that the developer "is not interested in pursuing a higher density project."
However, the Valley Transportation Authority is interested in higher density, at least 55 units per acre to be exact, according to its letter to the council. The VTA guidelines supported by all 15 cities in Santa Clara County call for such densities within one-third mile of a regional transit center in an effort to meet housing demand while encouraging transit use. Caltrain, light rail and bus service are located almost directly across the street from the site.
To further encourage the buyers of the homes not to use their cars, VTA is asking the developer to provide them light rail and bus passes.
Ward explained that borrowing money for a higher density project would cause too much "credit exposure" in the current housing market, which is "just plain awful."
Classic Communities had originally submitted plans for a 96-unit project in 2006, but withdrew the project as the City Council considered a halt on all high density projects, stressed "quality over quantity" and criticized the project's lack of open space.
To be demolished are two houses on Villa Street and 100,000 square feet of auto shops and other commercial buildings in Abate's industrial Square. Several properties at the corner of Calderon and Evelyn will remain, including La Fiesta restaurant and two auto shops.
The city will receive $1.5 million in park fees and another $1.5 million in below market rate (BMR) housing fees that will go towards affordable housing elsewhere in the city.
A year ago a lawsuit against Mountain View was threatened by the owner of Classic Communities, John Mozart, who said the city's requirement for BMR fees was illegal under a recent court decision. His suit against a similar fee in Palo Alto was thrown out of court and he never pursued the suit against Mountain View.
The city expects the average home in the project will sell for about $750,000, which increases the value of the property to $49 million from $18 million. Property taxes for the city could more than double to $78,000 a year, a city staff report said.