Office buildings from five to eight stories tall soon could be allowed north of Highway 101, if City Council direction on Tuesday is any indication.
In a study session, Council members picked a conceptual plan for adding as many as 3.4 million square feet of new offices -- with room for at least 15,000 employees -- to Mountain View's North Bayshore, an area north of Highway 101 that's home to Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Intuit, among others.
Planning North Bayshore appears to be one of the more stressful tasks for council members in recent memory, with members expressing hesitancy to pick a rough zoning map to go with a detailed new "precise plan" for the area that's being developed this year. More office growth could mean more traffic, more impacts to wetland wildlife and more tech employees driving up local home prices. But members want to see "super blocks" broken up to allow more pedestrian and bike mobility throughout the area on new streets and pathways.
Mayor Chris Clark and member Mike Kasperzak said that won't happen unless property owners are "incentivized" to build through new zoning for taller buildings.
A 4-3 majority of council members supported a concept called "option A" for focusing growth along a transportation "spine" on Shoreline Boulevard between Highway 101 and Charleston Road, where major employee shuttle stops would also go amidst ground-floor retail. John Inks, John McAlister and Jac Siegel were opposed. Siegel said it allowed to much development, while Inks and McAlister said the limits were too restrictive. In McAlister's view, the plans was unfair to some property owners.
The tallest buildings allowed -- eight stories -- would be at "gateway" properties where Shoreline meets the north side of Highway 101. Height limits would be six stories on most of Shoreline, though there would be yet-to-be-determined restrictions on how much of a footprint such buildings could have.
The "core" extends through the Google properties on Joaquin and the east side of Huff. Outside the core, heights of four stories dominate, tapering to two stories near Shoreline Park and Stevens Creek.
The council backed away from the idea of having many taller buildings along Highway 101.
"The idea of having development spread along the 101 freeway -- you disperse the demand (for transit service) and you have more of what North Bayshore has been, which is a 1960s business park," said resident Cliff Chambers.
At one point in the discussion council members seemed to back away from the core concept, apparently fearing that it would be the start of allowing such heights throughout the area. City planning director Randy Tsuda assured council members that the concept could always be changed later this year, though it would mean more work.
"It feels like the council is stepping away from the core concept because it feels like there's 22 million square feet of space being built," said council member Mike Kasperzak. "I think we're here to reflect the community in some of the vision. But the how that's why we've got the experts. It troubles me when I hear us trying to micromanage the technical details for how you do this. Sometimes I feel like we're second-guessing the people who do know. If we want to constrain the growth, that's a policy decision and we can do that."
Council member Ronit Bryant said she was uncomfortable with allowing eight-story buildings.
"Some of our neighboring cities are building very tall buildings very densely. I don't think we will ever compete with them," Bryant said. "We have much less land and I'm not interested anyway."
Some computer renderings were created to show what six- and eight-story buildings might look like on Shoreline Boulevard. Bryant's reaction: "What I wanted to see was a Stanford campus," but instead she said there were "trees along the street and then just buildings and buildings and buildings and we've lost the character of North Bayshore. We are pushing for too much development."
Looking into his "crystal ball," Raimi said it was likely that the Microsoft campus would redevelop along Highway 101, given the age of the buildings, but as for the VTA bus yard next to it, "I doubt it's changing."
"If you are going to leave eight stories anywhere, I'd say it's the gateway parcels," Raimi said. "Allowing eight-story buildings does allow some creativity and flexibility to create character and a place (along with) iconic buildings."
"You can have a great area with eight-story buildings, you can have a great area without eight-story buildings," Raimi said. "It constrains what designers can do, but they'll work with it."