News

City Council unhappy with 'boxy' new developments

First phase of San Antonio deeply criticized for poor design choices

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but Mountain View City Council members spoke out last week against boxy, office-like housing projects, calling for a shift in the city's architectural design philosophy.

The project in the council's cross hairs at the Oct. 24 meeting was the Greystar proposal at the corner of San Antonio Road and California Street, a mixed-use project with 641 homes as well as commercial space. The development site is at a prominent location in the San Antonio area, and has gone through multiple revisions in order to take the edge off the sheer density of the proposed five-story buildings.

While the City Council was tepidly supportive of the changes, council members repeatedly expressed frustration with the larger trend by developers to create the vertical, rectangular "cookie-cutter" style apartment buildings that now pepper the city and other neighboring communities. Public enemy No. 1 in the discussion was the first phase of the San Antonio shopping center -- located at the corner of San Antonio and El Camino Real -- which both council members and city staff agreed had some serious design flaws.

The careful look at Greystar's project comes after repeated concerns by council members throughout the year that housing developments are all beginning to look too similar, said Randy Tsuda, the city's community development director. The worry is that there isn't enough diversity in the architectural style of newly approved housing projects in Mountain View, and that the city might need to take a step back and re-assess what it's looking for in the architectural review process.

This isn't the first time the Greystar project has been subject to the city's scrutiny. The proposal has gone through the Development Review Committee, and the building design has since been adjusted to appear less monolithic, including more step-backs, warmer colors and more "expressions" -- a technique used to break up vertical walls with pop-out features. But city staff conceded that "overall character and massing" of the building at the corner remains the same regardless of the changes, and City Council members agreed that the tweaks hardly address key design problems that they keep seeing time and again.

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"I'm happy to hear that my colleagues have said it's a bunch of squares and rectangles, because it is," said Mayor Ken Rosenberg, who said that the project looks more like an office complex than a place where people live.

He said he would prefer architecture with more curves and arches, similar to the Franklin Street apartments, so people can tell the apartments are homes just by looking at them.

"The problem that we're having in Mountain View is all the apartments and all of the new units being proposed are a contemporary design, and I think we need to break from the contemporary designs," he said.

Councilwoman Pat Showalter said it seems like the Greystar project has a bit of an identity crisis: It's not clear if the design is intended to fit in with The Crossings neighborhood to the east or the more urban, dense development within the San Antonio Shopping Center. Even with the revisions, she said Greystar's proposal still looks too sterile, too utilitarian and not very welcoming.

Councilman Chris Clark said the revisions are certainly headed in the right direction, but the gray color and tall, narrow windows make the project look stark and prison-like. He recalled a similar architectural problem with the affordable housing complex at 801 Alma Street in Palo Alto, which has one solid color and only a few narrow windows facing the street.

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"I always wonder who Palo Alto has imprisoned there, because it reminds me of a prison," Clark said.

Throughout the meeting, some council members voiced disappointment over the first phase of Merlone Geier's redevelopment at San Antonio shopping center -- which includes Carmel the Village and retail space -- and urged the city to steer clear of repeating the same mistakes. Councilwoman Lisa Matichak said the apartments are too close together and create a "canyon effect," and she found the strange purple, blue and green colors on the buildings unattractive.

Representatives from Merlone Geier did not respond to requests for comment.

Rosenberg said Mountain View continues to catch flak for the poor design choices of the Merlone Geier project, and that residents are rightfully upset with both the architectural design and the layout of the project that makes it hard to get around. He said his worry is that the Greystar project revisions merely soften the blow, but continues to make the same mistakes.

"I don't want to vote for that," he said. "I don't want to vote for Merlone Geier Phase one, part two, but across the street."

Tsuda said there's "no denying" that there are very big weaknesses in the first phase of the shopping center's redesign, particularly the network of streets, the difficulty getting around on bike or on foot, and the lack of a common area for people to gather. But he insisted that the city has learned from those mistakes, and that the second phase -- once complete -- will show huge improvements.

"From a site-planning standpoint and a pedestrian standpoint, this is going to be a far superior project," he said.

Council members agreed to let the Greystar development proceed without upending the architectural design, and are scheduled to have a larger discussion about development design and character early next year, Tsuda said. The study session will give the council a chance to weigh on the design of buildings and architectural styles in general, rather than trying ascertain the council's desire for a specific project.

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City Council unhappy with 'boxy' new developments

First phase of San Antonio deeply criticized for poor design choices

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Fri, Nov 3, 2017, 10:13 am

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but Mountain View City Council members spoke out last week against boxy, office-like housing projects, calling for a shift in the city's architectural design philosophy.

The project in the council's cross hairs at the Oct. 24 meeting was the Greystar proposal at the corner of San Antonio Road and California Street, a mixed-use project with 641 homes as well as commercial space. The development site is at a prominent location in the San Antonio area, and has gone through multiple revisions in order to take the edge off the sheer density of the proposed five-story buildings.

While the City Council was tepidly supportive of the changes, council members repeatedly expressed frustration with the larger trend by developers to create the vertical, rectangular "cookie-cutter" style apartment buildings that now pepper the city and other neighboring communities. Public enemy No. 1 in the discussion was the first phase of the San Antonio shopping center -- located at the corner of San Antonio and El Camino Real -- which both council members and city staff agreed had some serious design flaws.

The careful look at Greystar's project comes after repeated concerns by council members throughout the year that housing developments are all beginning to look too similar, said Randy Tsuda, the city's community development director. The worry is that there isn't enough diversity in the architectural style of newly approved housing projects in Mountain View, and that the city might need to take a step back and re-assess what it's looking for in the architectural review process.

This isn't the first time the Greystar project has been subject to the city's scrutiny. The proposal has gone through the Development Review Committee, and the building design has since been adjusted to appear less monolithic, including more step-backs, warmer colors and more "expressions" -- a technique used to break up vertical walls with pop-out features. But city staff conceded that "overall character and massing" of the building at the corner remains the same regardless of the changes, and City Council members agreed that the tweaks hardly address key design problems that they keep seeing time and again.

"I'm happy to hear that my colleagues have said it's a bunch of squares and rectangles, because it is," said Mayor Ken Rosenberg, who said that the project looks more like an office complex than a place where people live.

He said he would prefer architecture with more curves and arches, similar to the Franklin Street apartments, so people can tell the apartments are homes just by looking at them.

"The problem that we're having in Mountain View is all the apartments and all of the new units being proposed are a contemporary design, and I think we need to break from the contemporary designs," he said.

Councilwoman Pat Showalter said it seems like the Greystar project has a bit of an identity crisis: It's not clear if the design is intended to fit in with The Crossings neighborhood to the east or the more urban, dense development within the San Antonio Shopping Center. Even with the revisions, she said Greystar's proposal still looks too sterile, too utilitarian and not very welcoming.

Councilman Chris Clark said the revisions are certainly headed in the right direction, but the gray color and tall, narrow windows make the project look stark and prison-like. He recalled a similar architectural problem with the affordable housing complex at 801 Alma Street in Palo Alto, which has one solid color and only a few narrow windows facing the street.

"I always wonder who Palo Alto has imprisoned there, because it reminds me of a prison," Clark said.

Throughout the meeting, some council members voiced disappointment over the first phase of Merlone Geier's redevelopment at San Antonio shopping center -- which includes Carmel the Village and retail space -- and urged the city to steer clear of repeating the same mistakes. Councilwoman Lisa Matichak said the apartments are too close together and create a "canyon effect," and she found the strange purple, blue and green colors on the buildings unattractive.

Representatives from Merlone Geier did not respond to requests for comment.

Rosenberg said Mountain View continues to catch flak for the poor design choices of the Merlone Geier project, and that residents are rightfully upset with both the architectural design and the layout of the project that makes it hard to get around. He said his worry is that the Greystar project revisions merely soften the blow, but continues to make the same mistakes.

"I don't want to vote for that," he said. "I don't want to vote for Merlone Geier Phase one, part two, but across the street."

Tsuda said there's "no denying" that there are very big weaknesses in the first phase of the shopping center's redesign, particularly the network of streets, the difficulty getting around on bike or on foot, and the lack of a common area for people to gather. But he insisted that the city has learned from those mistakes, and that the second phase -- once complete -- will show huge improvements.

"From a site-planning standpoint and a pedestrian standpoint, this is going to be a far superior project," he said.

Council members agreed to let the Greystar development proceed without upending the architectural design, and are scheduled to have a larger discussion about development design and character early next year, Tsuda said. The study session will give the council a chance to weigh on the design of buildings and architectural styles in general, rather than trying ascertain the council's desire for a specific project.

Comments

Polomom
Registered user
Waverly Park
on Nov 3, 2017 at 1:18 pm
Polomom, Waverly Park
Registered user
on Nov 3, 2017 at 1:18 pm
67 people like this

The development on the corner of El Camino and Castro is a great example of ugly new development. Boxy, too close to the curb and boring facade. I am glad the council is getting involved in the next development phase in MV.


Monolith
Cuesta Park
on Nov 3, 2017 at 2:16 pm
Monolith, Cuesta Park
on Nov 3, 2017 at 2:16 pm
90 people like this

Didn't the City Council review the designs and mock ups of San Antonio shopping center before it was built? Now they aren't happy with it? I don't understand.


Astounded
Shoreline West
on Nov 3, 2017 at 2:32 pm
Astounded, Shoreline West
on Nov 3, 2017 at 2:32 pm
124 people like this

Boxy buildings? Who approves these boxy buldings? Hello, is anyone minding the store??? Seriously disappointed with most of what is going on around town. It seems no one can plan beyond the tip of their noses.


Ugh...
The Crossings
on Nov 3, 2017 at 3:12 pm
Ugh..., The Crossings
on Nov 3, 2017 at 3:12 pm
45 people like this

They are just figuring this all out now? Sounds like the city has a case of buyer's remorse. Too late now.


Judy
Willowgate
on Nov 3, 2017 at 3:20 pm
Judy, Willowgate
on Nov 3, 2017 at 3:20 pm
84 people like this

We live near the new Moffett/Central Expwy development and, although I don't think it's beautiful, per se, I really appreciate a few things about it: it's not terribly tall, it tapers down to the height of the neighborhood farther down Moffett, and it has a very nice publicly accessible thruway that allows people from Stierlin to see (or walk) straight to downtown. As a result, it seems to mostly have a positive visual impact on the neighborhood (other than the ridiculous 1-parking-space-per-unit allocation, which I am sure is resulting in parked-up streets all around it). I would wish that the city would take a similar approach to other large complexes: break up their monolithic-ness with public space, vary the height and setback, keep it at a max of 4 floors, etc. But also, I wish the city council would assume that every 2-bedroom apartment will need two car spaces. It's unrealistic to think otherwise!


Sophie Mutter
Registered user
The Crossings
on Nov 3, 2017 at 4:49 pm
Sophie Mutter, The Crossings
Registered user
on Nov 3, 2017 at 4:49 pm
23 people like this

I agree with @Monilith. Without approval from city council, the current (ugly by my opinion) San Antonio shopping center wouldn’t have been built. Is the current city council going to blame the members of city council who are responsible for the design review and approval? I request city council to explain more.


MyOpinion
Registered user
Sylvan Park
on Nov 3, 2017 at 4:49 pm
MyOpinion, Sylvan Park
Registered user
on Nov 3, 2017 at 4:49 pm
54 people like this

Isn't a bit late to complain about projects already completed? I think much of the developent is too dense, too high and not well planned. We should be able to do better, but developers want to build fast, big and cheap, and the City of Mtn View seems to support that. The entire area bordered by California, Showers, El Camino and San Antonia, is a one giant mess; Promised to be Mtn View's Santana Row, it is more like these buildings dropped out of the sky with no rhyme or reason.


Raise the bar
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2017 at 5:41 pm
Raise the bar, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2017 at 5:41 pm
33 people like this

We have friends who were looking for a place to rent and we're hoping to llive in Mountain View, but after looking at several units they said or the new construction in Mountain View, "We don't want to live in a cube, and all those new apartments look like cubes. Ugh" They wound up in a charming 6 unit complex in Los Gatos that is just a few blocks from downtown, is very quiet, has a front porch and a back area with a view of trees and parkland. Same price point as the Mountain View units they looked at. Different strokes for different folks, but I agree with them about the generic and cube like appearance of most of the new construction. Ugh.

And, Chris Clark is right about the apartment building at 801 Alma in Pablo Alto when he said, "I always wonder who Palo Alto has imprisoned there, because it reminds me of a prison," The first time I saw that building I thought it looked like a prison or a fortress of some sort...it still does. It's atrocious.

Look at some of the beautifully designed buildings which have been constructed (are being constructed) in Los Altos. I have little doubt they were expensive to design and build, but the end product sure looks nice. Mountain View should raise its standards. We get only what we require/demand and nothing more, imho.


Jeff
Old Mountain View
on Nov 3, 2017 at 5:58 pm
Jeff, Old Mountain View
on Nov 3, 2017 at 5:58 pm
18 people like this

@Monolith - sure, they reviewed a cardboard model, never imagining that would be faithfully built full size. What a crappy-looking mediocrity. The Palo Alto JCC is another example of a list of conceptual tweaks that did not translate into a pleasing and approachable complex. When you can look at a building and spot all of the elements that the architects pitched, rather than reacting to the whole, you have a forced and flawed design. Check out the thoughtlessly and thoroughly compromised Alma Plaza (after about ten years of the Palo Alto process!).

Folks, going vertical is one way to achieve high density with wider open spaces and setbacks from the sidewalk. Just sayin'.

Let the search for inspiration be carried on -- It is worth it.


Christopher Chiang
Registered user
North Bayshore
on Nov 3, 2017 at 8:25 pm
Christopher Chiang, North Bayshore
Registered user
on Nov 3, 2017 at 8:25 pm
7 people like this

801 Alma in Palo Alto (with its lack of windows on one side) may look that way because it's next door to Caltrain, and is designed to reduce sound.

An ideal solution would be for there to be a community review board of residents selected for their professional expertise in design, architecture, and local community aesthetics (we are lucky in MV we probably have many such talented residents), and let such a committee give feedback to developments. Good taste design aesthetics is a tough bar for even professionals to reach, let alone elected officials and city staff.

Somethings are best fielded to experts. Good design benefits us all, bad design has a ripple effect beyond itself as well.


Laura W
Cuesta Park
on Nov 3, 2017 at 8:37 pm
Laura W, Cuesta Park
on Nov 3, 2017 at 8:37 pm
47 people like this

Sounds good. The council is finally realizing they need to think more about the design of projects and stop sprucing one poorly-designed monstrosity after another. Too bad they didn't realize this a few years ago.

> Council members agreed to let the Greystar development proceed
> without upending the architectural design

Oh. Nevermind. Carry on with the monstrosities.

Just, I agree about the parking. I expect my neighborhood near Castro and El Camino will have SF-like street parking as soon as the new apartments there are occupied. I won't be voting to re-elect anyone who voted to approve these new projects without adequate parking.


Anke
North Whisman
on Nov 4, 2017 at 8:33 am
Anke, North Whisman
on Nov 4, 2017 at 8:33 am
106 people like this

"An ideal solution would be for there to be a community review board of residents selected for their professional expertise in design, architecture,"

An ideal solution would be to stop the overpopulation and overbuilding.


Diablo
Monta Loma
on Nov 4, 2017 at 9:43 am
Diablo , Monta Loma
on Nov 4, 2017 at 9:43 am
19 people like this

I agree with whoever said, where and who were the City Council members that approved that San Antonio project. I know at least some of them got re-elected. There was already talk about the canyon effect, poor bicycle and pedestrian access after the first phase, and look what they gave us in phase II. So, we got ourselves a big new blocky shopping/living/office center that encourages driving and dominates the landscape - bring on the traffic! What a gateway to Mtn View.


Christopher Chiang
Registered user
North Bayshore
on Nov 4, 2017 at 10:44 am
Christopher Chiang, North Bayshore
Registered user
on Nov 4, 2017 at 10:44 am
3 people like this

The Palo Alto JCC is beautiful, you should walk its inner spaces sometime. An architectural gem for that area.


rainbow38
Martens-Carmelita
on Nov 4, 2017 at 12:17 pm
rainbow38, Martens-Carmelita
on Nov 4, 2017 at 12:17 pm
20 people like this

We live in a Mediterranean climate and buildings from that area would be a welcome change here. More curves, arched windows, etc. Other countries have buildings that could serve as models for this area so there's no need to re-invent the plans.


ex-Hooli person
Rex Manor
on Nov 4, 2017 at 12:57 pm
ex-Hooli person, Rex Manor
on Nov 4, 2017 at 12:57 pm
33 people like this

A contrasting viewpoint: the JCC is an atrocious affront to cyclists and pedestrians. I braved that meat-grinder every day cycling commute to Hooli. Twice I was struck by cars blindly exiting the parking lot.

Despite the daunting mass of the building, there's plenty of space for a landscaped border, but the sidewalk is too narrow and the routing is designed to ensure collisions.


Long time resident
Old Mountain View
on Nov 4, 2017 at 8:23 pm
Long time resident, Old Mountain View
on Nov 4, 2017 at 8:23 pm
32 people like this

clearly the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. The city allows Google to basically take over the city, with all it's growth then builds these ugly buildings all over town. Mountain View has lost its charm.


Not an architect
Gemello
on Nov 4, 2017 at 8:27 pm
Not an architect, Gemello
on Nov 4, 2017 at 8:27 pm
13 people like this

I'm not an architect but most of these criticisms are based entirely on subjective preferences, such as color, design features, etc. all projects go through a design review of professionals hired by the city. Unfortunately developers have to appease the preferences of petty council members and residents. That's why the designs get screwed up.


Alex M
Registered user
Willowgate
on Nov 5, 2017 at 12:08 am
Alex M, Willowgate
Registered user
on Nov 5, 2017 at 12:08 am
18 people like this

I won't be voting for anyone who voted to approve yet another rental property construction project. I don't mind high-rise buildings, but I want the units to be owned by the residents, not rented out for the benefit of some landlord.

When I travel to Singapore, I'm struck by how well ownership works. I meet few renters. Nearly everyone owns a flat in a high-rise community. Many are built as government subsidized projects and serve as the first home for new members of the workforce. And the buildings are spaced so that you generally have a decent view from your unit. And typically those buildings have useful shops and restaurants on the ground floor.


Juan
Registered user
Rengstorff Park
on Nov 5, 2017 at 8:43 am
Juan, Rengstorff Park
Registered user
on Nov 5, 2017 at 8:43 am
12 people like this

If the city council continues to rubber stamp every ugly building design that comes along then Mountain View will continue to get ugly buildings. Quality design costs money, and if developers have the choice of making $500,000,000 building an ugly building or make $499,900,000 building a tasteful, well-designed building that is an asset to the community, guess which one they will choose?


MountainObstructedView
Cuernavaca
on Nov 5, 2017 at 5:43 pm
MountainObstructedView, Cuernavaca
on Nov 5, 2017 at 5:43 pm
173 people like this

I used to enjoy seeing the Santa Cruz Mountains on the horizon when moving around our once fair city. The views reminded me of the city founders who saw those same mountains and named our city “Mountain View” Now those views are disappearing behind these tall, looming rectangular structures.


YIMBY
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2017 at 9:22 am
YIMBY, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2017 at 9:22 am
7 people like this

@MountainObstructedView

Oh no! Not our precious mountain views! Surely the views of mountains from your backyard are so precious that solving the housing crisis should take a backseat to you personally having a landscape feature to look at.


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