Despite some misgivings about parking and the sheer size of the project, Mountain View City Council members on Tuesday night were largely pleased with a proposal to build two seven-story housing structures right next door to the city's largest jobs center. But bringing any amenities like parks and retail to the Terra Bella area just south of Highway 101 will probably have to wait for another day.
The project at 1001 North Shoreline Blvd., proposed by Calvano Development, would be a big divergence from the existing single-story buildings in the area, bringing a dense mix of apartments and for-sale condominiums, and a six-story parking structure, to an area currently zoned for industrial uses. The project would be right next door to a 111,443-square-foot office building -- also built by Calvano -- that is expected to be completed this summer and will be leased out to Google. The new proposed development includes 203 apartments in one structure directly facing the Highway 101 on-ramp, as well as 100 condominiums to the east of the office building.
In a letter to city staff with the initial proposal in 2015, the developer referred to the property as a "unique opportunity" for mixed-use office and residential development that follows the spirit of the draft North Bayshore Precise Plan transforming the jobs-rich are of the city with thousands of new housing units. By putting jobs and housing right next door, the developer expects the project to have a "self-mitigating" jobs-housing balance.
The property also appears to be uniquely positioned to be a bad place for retail, park land and underground parking. Since the developers' original gatekeeper proposal was submitted, 3,000 square feet of proposed retail has vanished, and the five-story residential buildings have grown to seven stories to make room for two levels of above-grade parking. Although the city typically requires underground parking for nearly all of its residential developments, digging below the surface and removing groundwater could spread contaminated water from the nearby Teledyne Spectra-Physics Superfund plume north of the site.
It's one of several Superfund sites in the city stemming from toxic chemicals, including carcinogenic TCE (trichloroethylene ), that leaked or were dumped and which then contaminated the groundwater flowing underneath the area.
Council members quickly agreed at the April 4 study session not to require to developer to study underground parking. Council member Pat Showalter said she used to be a geo-hydrologist, called the requirement "overkill" and that there's a very low chance the developer is going to find underground parking to be feasible, given the proximity to the groundwater plume. Council member Lenny Siegel added that it would be difficult to prove in a study, without a reasonable doubt, that underground parking wouldn't disrupt the plume, and that the developer could end up on the hook for the cleanup if the contaminated plume spreads as a result of the digging and groundwater removal.
"If they spread the plume beyond its current boundaries they can be named as a potentially responsible party and be liable for the entire cleanup of the site if the other responsible parties aren't able to do that," Siegel said.
Council members also overwhelmingly supported allowing the developer to pay in-lieu fees instead of providing park space -- acknowledging that it was a lousy location for a park -- and agreed to study whether to allow the developer to provide fewer parking spaces than would normally be allowed for high-density housing. Under the city's Model Parking Standard, the project would be required to provide 458 spaces for the homes, but Calvano's proposal only provides for 364 spaces. Shared parking with the nearby office building could be one of the ways to off-load parking demand in nearby lots.
Although the proposal before the City Council on Tuesday night called for setting aside 10 percent of both the condominiums and apartments for below-market rate (BMR) housing -- which is typical -- council members mostly agreed that all of the BMR units ought to be apartments. The developer could also shift some of the units from low-income to moderate-income families, expanding access to the affordable units to families making up to 120 percent of the Area Median Income. An additional package of community benefits will be developed during the formal review process for the project in the coming months.
Council members were split, however, when it came to requiring retail. Although the original gatekeeper proposal called for 3,000 square feet of ground-level retail on the project site, the developer has since dropped it from the proposal, claiming it wouldn't thrive at the project's location. The city's Environmental Planning Commission last month agreed to recommend that Calvano stick to its original proposal, and council members John McAlister, Siegel and Mayor Ken Rosenberg said they were hesitant to lose valuable retail space.
"I think we're going to have to develop the habit of requiring retail even at the risk that it might get subsidized," Siegel said. "We're losing too much retail in our community."
Rosenberg said the claim that retail wouldn't thrive in the project's location doesn't quite add up. The previous business in that location, Fiesta Del Mar, was one of Mountain View's most popular restaurants before it shut down in 2015 to make way for the office development.
"I don't want to accept that it's not possible," Rosenberg said.