Fast-track for huge office campus?

Buildings up to 10 stories high to attract major company, developer says

A large office campus proposed for Middlefield Road near Highway 237 could host a major company's headquarters with 3,500 employees -- especially if it is approved within 12 months, a developer said Tuesday.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a gatekeeper request for 690 East Middlefield Road to allow city planning to begin. No designs have been drawn, but Mollie Ricker, principal of Palo Alto-based Dostart Development Company, said possibilities include three buildings five- to nine-stories tall and a pair of buildings 10-stories tall to provide a landmark gateway to the city seen by drivers coming in on Highway 237. The buildings could total more than 685,000 square feet, but could grow to 909,000 square feet if neighboring properties on Maude Avenue are included in the project.

Ricker said the unusual size of the site, 15.6 acres, could motivate a large company to locate its headquarters there. She couldn't name the names of prospective tenants but "you can take the biggest employers in Mountain View and you can bet we've talked to them."

The city's largest employers include Google (said to have 10,000 employees in Mountain View), Microsoft and Intuit.

The project would be the "first ever mid-rise project along the freeway in Mountain View," Ricker said.

Because of the requirements of at least one prospective tenant, and the financing that could result, "we have the highest chance of success if we can get through the planning process within 12 months," Ricker said. "Within 12 months we can develop a really great project."

A previously approved Dostart project at the site failed as the recession hit and financial markets closed, Ricker said. The "class A" office project boasted a helicopter pad, but at 340,000 square feet it was half the size of the current proposal.

City planners said the site would be rezoned in the city's general plan update next year, which will study cumulative impacts of higher density office development in the neighborhood. But city planners now have the green light to get an early start on the Dostart site.

A doubling of allowed floor area ratio has been proposed for the Dostart project, from 0.5 to 1.0, which could result in a range of configurations, from tall and narrow 10 story buildings with large courtyards to shorter two story buildings with little open space.

"A FAR of 1.0 is not excessive if it is going to get people out of their cars," said Mayor Jac Siegel, referring to the nearby light rail station, which allows a density bonus for "transit oriented development." In a letter to the city, Ricker said the site is 425 feet from a six-minute trip to the downtown train station via light rail.

Council member Laura Macias was the only critic.

"I'm not excited about 10 story buildings" in a neighborhood of buildings "no greater than two to three stories."

Ricker told the council that the project could bring $8-10 million in fees to the city and as much as $2.5 million in "off-site improvements" for public use.

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3 people like this
Posted by Dumfounded
a resident of Whisman Station
on May 6, 2011 at 2:21 pm

I hate to be dumb but what is a gatekeeper request? Google did not help...

3 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of Sylvan Park
on May 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm

ooh-ooh-ooh! $8,000,000.00-$10,000,000.00 in fees! Bet city hall already has it spent.

3 people like this
Posted by Know-It-All
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 6, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Gatekeeper request or (GRx) rejects and confirms messages for endpoints using the RAS (Remote Access Service) protocol in order to communicate with a gatekeeper. The term originates from a telecom/network signaling protocol.

3 people like this
Posted by k
a resident of Shoreline West
on May 6, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Aren't there like a billion unused office complexes right now in MV and Palo Alto?? I fail to see how this is necessary or going to find anyone to occupy it? Silliness.

3 people like this
Posted by Ella
a resident of Whisman Station
on May 6, 2011 at 3:39 pm

There are a lot of empty smaller, older office complexes in the area right now that could fit a few hundred employees, but there are not many, if any, "class A", corporate headquarter-type offices in town that could fit a few thousand employees, which is the size this would be. Obviously, the market for run-down office complexes like the former HP buildings on the site is non-existent or they wouldn't be vacant. Meanwhile, Google is thriving in it's nice building and has plans to build more. Now imagine another company the size of Google relocating to Mountain View and all the jobs, tax revenue, prestige, etc. it could bring. Why would anyone not want that to happen, especially when it's the developer that's footing the cost and not the City of MV?

3 people like this
Posted by OMV Resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 6, 2011 at 4:55 pm

@k's statement about unused office complexes -
You're about a year behind on your real estate news. The office market, particularly in the Palo Alto-Mountain View-Sunnyvale area, is heating up quickly, and vacancy rates are dropping fast. Moffett Towers, which sat vacation for almost 2 years after it was completed around the start of the recession, is filling up quickly.

For some reference points, check these out:
Web Link
Web Link

3 people like this
Posted by OMV Resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 6, 2011 at 4:56 pm

That should have said "vacant", not "vacation". I guess my mind is elsewhere! :)

3 people like this
Posted by Bruce Karney
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 6, 2011 at 5:11 pm

This is the old HP site. I worked there twice, first from 1981-84 then from 2003-05.

It's hard to imagine very many people reaching this site by light rail because the trolleys go so slowy, but vanpools and carpools would be attractive options. VTA used to have a couple of bus lines that stopped nearby one of them an Express from San Jose.

Dedicated shuttle busses to the MV and Sunnyvale Caltrain stations could get lots of people out of their cars.

There are only a few small places within walking distance to eat lunch. I think any office project on this site should have its own cafeteria that's big enough to feed the new employees on site.

3 people like this
Posted by KB
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 6, 2011 at 7:02 pm

10 stories? If I wanted to live in a big city such as SF or SJ I would be living there already. If they build one, more are sure to follow. Please don't push me out of my home town of 50 years. If you want to live in a big city, move to one. Don't mess up my town.

3 people like this
Posted by Mark
a resident of Whisman Station
on May 7, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Gatekeeper Request:

The MV City Council representatives must approve a "Gatekeeper Request" before the civil servants in the Community Development / Planning Division are allowed to begin processing the developer's application. This is the milestone that begins the city's formal involvement with the project. There's a whole process they have to go through before the developer can break ground on a project. There are a couple of major checkpoints where input can be provided by the general public. And if you're willing to spend the time and effort, you can get involved earlier.

If the gatekeeper request is not approved -- which is pretty rare -- that would mean the city council won't even consider that developer's project under any circumstances. Usually these Gatekeeper Requests are approved on what they call the "Consent Calendar", procedural stuff that's not likely to need much discussion.

After the Gatekeeper Request is approved, the planning division starts reviewing the developer's application, looking at blueprints, checking for compliance with the zoning regulations, emergency vehicle access, drainage, trees, all those details.

Before the developer can break ground on a project, they have to get approval from the Zoning Administrator (a civil servant). I think that ZA approval is based on technical zoning issues, but you can certainly let the ZA know if you have specific concerns about the proposed project.

The developer also has to get a recommendation from the Environmental Planning Commission (citizens appointed by the city council). The EPC has regular meetings open to the public, much like the city council. Many city council members first serve in the EPC. The EPC can't reject the project, but they can call attention to problems ("impacts") that need to be fixed ("mitigated"). If you think this project might affect you, be sure to find out when the EPC will be reviewing the project. The agenda should be available on the City of Mountain View website in advance. You can get detailed information about the proposal, and perhaps even talk one-on-one with the developers at this stage.

Finally, the City Council hears the presentation from the Planning Division, the developer's presentation, and the EPC's recommendation. There's some time for the general public to speak to the council (a few minutes for one person, somewhat longer if you represent a group). The council discusses the impacts and considers whether to accept the "Mitigated Negative Declaration" (in other words, lawyer-speak for all the problems are solved). Sometimes the city council may attach conditions to their approval.

To influence a project like this, the key is to get involved early and stay engaged for the long haul. Meet the planners and developers involved in the project, and talk with them.


Personally, I've lived in the Whisman Station neighborhood since my home was built in 1998, and we have always had somewhat of a street parking problem. The planners gave us less parking than normal because we are in the "Light Rail Corridor". I know only a few people who work at Lockheed or SF who can take the light rail or the caltrain to work. Most of us drive. I therefore have to question whether raising the Floor Area Ratio that much is perhaps a bit too optimistic. On the other hand, the Middlefield/237 site is within walking distance of my neighborhood, so I wonder if a high FAR would work if it's linked with a good mix of housing nearby.

3 people like this
Posted by Ella
a resident of Whisman Station
on May 11, 2011 at 10:46 am

Sounds like Google already has plans to move into the area:

Web Link

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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