Mountain View leaders are walking a fine line as they try to dramatically expand the city's housing supply without running afoul of longstanding residents, and that balancing act played out succinctly on Tuesday night.
In a study session at the April 18 meeting, the City Council reviewed plans to squeeze nearly 350 new apartments into a site at 555 W. Middlefield Road that's already built up with more than 400 homes. Developers with the firm Avalon Bay presented plans to nearly double the number of housing units on the property by replacing parking lots with a pair of large, mostly four-story apartment buildings. The property would also fit in a new 1.5-acre park.
But other residents in the area didn't exactly lay out the welcome mat. Neighbors to the south of the property, along Cypress Point Drive, complained the project's design was bland, obstructive and simply too gigantic. They also pointed out all the parking from the proposed project would be funneled out on their street. About a half-dozen residents came to the meeting to urge the City Council to scale it back.
"I'm adamantly opposed to making this is a high-density project; it's out of the character to our neighborhood," said Patti Powell, a nearby resident. "All of these cars are going to be coming out along Cypress Point Drive, and the road can't handle it."
Residents in the Willowgate neighborhood had other reasons to worry. City staff pointed out that the area has two other huge housing projects in the pipeline a 711-unit project at 777 W. Middlefield Road and tentative plans to build 1,000 apartments at the Shenandoah Square site.
Council members took some of the public's concerns to heart, but they weren't willing to scuttle the project. Several members criticized the boxy, "office-building" look of the proposed apartments, urging the Avalon Bay team to enliven the design. They also wanted to see larger setbacks, so the tall new buildings wouldn't ruin the view of the neighborhood. The council also suggested that the developer make every effort to preserve as many of the trees on the site as possible.
Traffic proved a thornier issue. Council members acknowledged that congestion would only get worse if the project were built, and they offered an array of remedies. Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga suggested the developer could coordinate with the city's Transportation Management Agency, a bike-share project or the community shuttle to encourage people not to drive. Councilman Lenny Siegel pushed staff to design the project to include a future stop for an automated-guideway transit system, a far-off vision currently being studied by city staff. He and other council members said that the project needed a good connection to the Stevens Creek Trail.
"Unless I thought we were going to address (these problems) in a reasonable way, I wouldn't be approving all these projects in one area," Siegel said.
Nathan Hong of Avalon Bay did offer several amenities to assuage the fears on the council. Unlike most other large housing projects, the 555 Middlefield proposal would retain all of its existing housing, which helps avoid the huge displacement of tenants that's typical of these projects. Hong also pointed out all the future apartments would be prepared so they could someday be converted to for-sale condominiums, an extra step that the City Council has frequently requested.
But the scope of the project left some council members apprehensive, making it unclear whether they would support the apartment project in a future decision.
"I do hesitate at the size of this," Abe-Koga said. "I know things have changed and there's an increased interest in more housing, but we're looking at three projects in the area with high density."
Since this was a study session, the council could not take a vote to approve the project. The 555 W. Middlefield project is expect to come back to the City Council in the near future.