Clearly, the recession is over in the local housing sector. New development could bring over 1,300 new homes to the San Antonio Road and El Camino Real area, so many that a new school may be needed to accommodate the new population.
The city's housing stock may have gotten a boost on Jan. 28 when the City Council voted 5-2 to allow city planners to begin processing a proposal for many as 277 new apartments on a 4.6-acre site at 420-500 San Antonio Road, part of 14 acres which would would be "up-zoned" for higher density than allowed in the new general plan. A pair of office buildings, a Firestone tire shop, a sushi restaurant and a laundromat would be razed.
Council members John McAlister and Jac Siegel were opposed, citing concerns about traffic and the loss of retail space.
No schools nearby
The project by the Pillar Group may be the fifth large project near the intersection. Around the corner at 2650 and 2600 El Camino Real, an environmentally friendly 193-unit, four-story apartment project was approved last year to replace the San Antonio Inn.
On nearby El Camino Real, the Los Altos City Council has given the green light to 167 apartments and 38 row houses to replace the Marie Calendar restaurant and a garden supply center. At San Antonio Shopping Center, 330 apartments are under construction, while a 306-unit, five-story apartment project has been proposed to replace the Safeway on California Street. In total, that's 1,311 homes in the works for the area.
All the development has officials concerned about infrastructure needs everything from bike and pedestrian improvements to park space and even new schools. While it's within Mountain View city limits, the area is entirely served by the Los Altos School District, which educates about 1,200 Mountain View residents, said Los Altos School board member Doug Smith.
"There are no schools they can easily walk to," LASD board vice president Tamara Logan told the City Council on January 22. "We have not opened new facilities in the last 10 years."
The city's planning process for the area -- which included "visioning" workshops for the public last year -- "provides a welcome opportunity to increase park space residents are asking for and provide a local choice for our students," she said.
"We're open to many different possible configurations for how we might do this," added Smith at the Jan. 29 council meeting. "With land being at a premium, we're open to many alternatives. We ask that you take no action until we've had a chance (to come up with a plan)."
Without a plan
Council members were hesitant to approve the gatekeeper request for 420-500 San Antonio Road without finishing a new "precise plan" for the area which provides detailed requirements of development, including the community benefits such development could pay for.
"I'm very concerned about moving forward with what looks like a massive project," without a precise plan, said council member Ronit Bryant. "San Antonio Road needs to be improved. We need bicycle routes. We need medians, we need an easy way to get to Caltrain. If we let big development come in before we have this figured out, it's not going to happen."
"It is the burden of the developer to fit into what the city wants," Bryant said.
"When we did phase one, frankly there was a lot of things the city needed that we didn't get" from the San Antonio Shopping Center -- such as bicycle connections and improvements to San Antonio Road, said Bryant.
All the new development is likely to bring a class of residents able to pay high rents, shop at boutique stores and eat at restaurants. At its new "Carmel at the Village" luxury complex at the San Antonio Shopping Center, Merlone Geier is charging rents ranging from $2,195 for a 540-square-foot studio and $4,090 for a 1,459-square-foot, two-bedroom unit. The 330 new apartments count a pool and a dog park among its amenities, said spokesman Ron Heckmann in an email. The apartments may be occupied by early spring and a new Safeway and retail shops at the site are also nearly finished.
No clear vision
Merlone Geier has come up with a new proposal for the second phase of its project on San Antonio Road and California Street, where people were shocked by plans for an 11-story hotel.
"We've revised it dramatically," Mike Grehl of Merlone Geier told the council, which has yet to vote on the plans. "It is less than half the height of our prior proposal. A theater is included. There's a hotel. It is a dramatic departure from what was presented previously."
Merlone Geier's controversial 11-story hotel proposal spurred the council to initiate a "visioning process" so residents could help create goals for a precise plan for San Antonio shopping center and the surrounding area. But a report on the public input disappointed council members on Jan. 22 because it couldn't conclude whether residents want a dense urban development in the area.
"I was disappointed in it," said council member Jac Siegel. "I thought there would be more there."
"It didn't give us very much information because it didn't give us much consensus," council member Mike Kasperzak said.
Consultant Chris Beynon, who ran the public workshops, said there was consensus that "people want to have a sense of place here." For example, he pointed to a photo of people doing tai chi in a courtyard and said, "Everybody liked this photo."
"This could be a destination," said resident Wendee Crofoot. "I encourage us to build the density so we can get the businesses we want. In my neighborhood, everything is two to three stories, nothing is shocking."
Siegel said it was clear that people want the area to be bike friendly and pedestrian friendly but "everybody is worried about the traffic, no question about it."
Banen added that people want to "encourage more of the existing businesses in the area."
"I got kind of roasted at the workshop" for admitting that I had never visited the Milk Pail Market on San Antonio Road, which Merlone Geier has offered to buy and tear down, said Banen. People said, "We don't want to be like other places, we want to preserve that unique character."
Kasperzak wasn't pleased that some apparently wanted to reduce the densities allowed for the area in the city's recently approved 2030 general plan.
"It's a little frustrating in that we're retrenching what we've spent the last five years developing," Kasperzak said.
He added that the San Antonio precise plan could be blocked by 3-3 votes on the council. Mayor John Inks must abstain because he owns property just a little too close to the north eastern edge of the shopping center, even though that portion of the shopping center isn't set for development anytime soon.
"The mayor is sort of out of the running from the next four years because his property touches the edge" of the allowed distance, Kasperzak said. "It doesn't seem fair. It's going to be very contentious. We could end up with a lot of 3-3 stuff here, which doesn't serve the community well."