Despite some grumblings about being "hosed" on affordable housing rules, the Mountain View City Council gave an otherwise enthusiastic thumbs-up Tuesday to a proposed 605-unit apartment complex at 400 San Antonio Road. The project, among the largest housing developments in the city's pipeline, was praised as a forward-thinking plan for creating denser residences in one of the fastest changing areas of the city.
The developer, Prometheus Real Estate Group, submitted tentative plans to build a trio of five-story buildings and one seven-story building. In applying for the project, Prometheus representatives said they would seek to maximize use of a density bonus for development beyond the limits established by the city's precise plan for the San Antonio neighborhood. The proposed seven-story building would also surpass the city's height limits.
"The city's goal is to improve the quantity, diversity and affordability of housing," said Nathan Tuttle, senior development manager for Prometheus. "We feel this development responds directly to those goals."
The new apartment complex is meant to work in tandem with the ongoing development across the street at the San Antonio Shopping Center that aims to turn the area into a commercial hot-spot.
To get clearance to pack in so many units, Mountain View planning staff said that Prometheus would need to meet certain qualifications -- namely, including dozens of affordable homes or an equivalent lump sum in cash to the city. Planning staff reported that Prometheus' plans would require at least 44 units set aside as affordable homes, but they noted that this number was still prone to change.
Some council members made clear they thought the affordable-housing component of the project should be much larger. The Prometheus proposal was premised on using a variety of density bonuses, including incentives in the city's precise plan for the San Antonio neighborhood as well as a 1979 state law meant to encourage affordable-housing.
City Council members pointed out that Prometheus would be maximizing its affordable housing to get the largest density bonus under the state rules. But they questioned why Prometheus didn't also have to provide additional affordable housing to meet the city's rental-housing impact fees.
"I'm worried that we're giving up a whole lot of units for very little additional affordable housing," said Councilman Lenny Siegel. "To me, they're double-dipping."
City planning staff informed council members that the developer had no obligations to build more affordable homes. State law effectively trumps the city's rules in this matter, and its affordable-housing requirement exceeds what the city would have required, explained Community Development Director Randy Tsuda.
Boiling this down, Mayor John McAlister said he thought the city was getting a raw deal.
"They're getting 200 extra units, and we're only getting 44 (affordable) homes." he said. "We're getting hosed, but that's the law."
Prometheus also must provide some type of public benefit, which could be a new public park, trails or other community space. City staff calculated this project would require about $2.5 million in community benefits.
A round of public speakers were mostly supportive of the project as a way to increase housing stock in the city. One exception was Suzanne Ah-Tye, who identified herself as the owner of a 14-unit apartment next to the Prometheus site. Her property consists of two-story buildings, and she worried that the proposed five- and seven-story buildings would block out sunlight to her property.
"It's right next door to me, and I find myself getting upset by the project's enormity," she said. "This would literally loom over our complex, blocking out the sunlight and creating more traffic and pollution."
City officials said those concerns could be taken up as the project moves forward for further review. The council's discussion at Tuesday night's study session did not allow for a formal vote to be taken. Council members voiced criticism of small details, such as architecture design and the layout of the buildings, but overall signaled support for the plans.