A real estate developer was praised by a wide swath of the community at the City Council meeting on Tuesday evening for going to great lengths to preserve several small businesses in a redevelopment project at the corner of Castro Street and El Camino Real.
City Council members voted 4-3 to approve the plan for 164 apartments with ground floor retail as proposed by international development firm Greystar. The developer cut deals on affordable long-term leases for several small businesses so they could remain on site in the ground floor space of new four-story buildings: The Rose International Market, Sufi Coffee shop and cultural center, Le's Alterations and Tanya's hair design. Peet's Coffee will also remain on the site in a new corner location adjacent to a plaza.
Four of the businesses will be provided temporary structures during construction, in the Chase Bank parking lot, across the street, and in a vacant lot at the corner of Victor Way and Castro Street. The Rose Market was deemed too large for a temporary structure and will be compensated some other way during construction, according to Greystar. Gochi Japanese Fusion Tapas is also receiving relocation assistance to another site in Mountain View, after owners complained that they had spent their life savings on interior improvements, not knowing of the owner's development plans.
Voting against the project were council member Jac Siegel and John McAlister, who said the four-story buildings were too tall, and Margaret Abe Koga, who expressed concern about the reduction in retail space on the 2.38 acre site, from 22,380 square feet to 10,800.
"Here we have another project cutting (retail) space by half," Abe-Koga said.
To compensate, she said that the council could "maybe require more BMR (below market rate) units as a community benefit" to go beyond the five units included in the project that would be affordable to low income residents. Other council members were apparently not interested in pressing for more concessions from the developer.
Council member Mike Kasperzak said developer Dan Deibel might have miffed other developers for setting the bar higher by accommodating small businesses on the site. Despite his opposition to the project, Vice Mayor McAlister called the accommodations "extraordinary" and Mayor Chris Clark said Greystar was going "above and beyond what we'd normally require."
"Mr Deibel, you might want to check your card with other developers because there is going to be an expectation with future developments," Kasperzak said. "I'm astounded at the amount of community benefit. What a normal developer would do is come in and build all this space, not make accommodations to people and lease it at market rate."
Instead of just getting some some bulb-outs, a street improvement that was the only unique community benefit included in an another El Camino Real apartment project, Kasperzak said Greystar offered benefits that are "quite significant."
"I hope it's a model other developers emulate," he said.
Kasperzak suggested that other developers call Greystar and ask how they financed the community benefits, because when asked for such things, developers "always say, 'You can't get financing for that.'"
Similar praise came from the Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning, the Santa Clara County Housing Action Coalition and some residents, including a woman who owns a house next to the project.
"The developer has uniquely among other developers, listened hard to the community, the EPC (Environmental Planning Commission) and City Council," said Lucas Ramirez, speaking for the Coalition for Sustainable Planning. Greystar has "gone to great expense to not only make significant changes, but also keep retail tenants. Most of them will be relocated nearby at the developer's expense."
The project includes a plaza that Deibel said would serve as a public gathering space, underground parking that exceeds the city's parking requirements, solar water heating, bike storage, electric vehicle charging stations, the Zip Car car-sharing service, and transit passes for retail employees.
A handful of homeowners who live nearby continued to express fears about increased noise, car traffic and the adequacy of parking in the project. Among the concession made to residents in the area were increased fourth-floor setbacks, the removal of balconies and the removal of an outdoor pool from the project.
John D'Ambrosio of Frankie, Johnnie and Luigi Too said the longtime Mountain View restaurant might nor survive construction of the project because a parking lot the Italian restaurant relies on for much of its parking needs will be dug up during construction. Zoning administrator Gerry Beaudin likened the situation to that of the Milk Pail market, in that the restaurant doesn't own enough land to meet its own parking needs, and reminded the council that it had sold the lot the restaurant relied on to the developer.
"We are concerned no accommodation has been made for us during the construction period," D'Ambrosio said. "People are literally going to turn away from us when parking is inadequate. Our location in San Jose is not there anymore. We had to deal with this for two years and we never really recovered from that."
Council members suggested the restaurant look more aggressively at other options, like valet parking.
To make the adjacent portion of Castro Street safer, the project reduces the number of driveways onto the street from five to two. Curtis and others expressed concerns about creating new cut-through traffic on Sonia Way from the removal of the right-turn lane from El Camino Real and a "road diet" for Castro Street that has been approved by the City Council. It will narrow that section Castro Street from four lanes to two in order to slow traffic and make room for bike lanes. After several Graham Middle Schools students were hit by cars there in 2012, their principal said drivers used the section of street in front of Graham "like a speedway."