A developer's plan for a large house on Sierra Avenue was defeated after dozens of Old Mountain View residents rallied to save a grove of redwoods on the property. On Wednesday night, the city's Parks and Recreation Commission unanimously voted to deny a request to remove most of the trees.
Saving the trees on Sierra Avenue became a cause célèbre among Mountain View's downtown residents who say the city's rapid development is eroding its charm and livability. The Sierra Avenue property has 10 heritage trees, including seven redwoods, each around 80 feet tall.
An investment firm, Sage Capital Management, acquired the property last year and filed plans to remove nearly all the trees to make way for a 3,100 square foot house. After several reviews, city officials found the trees were healthy and worth saving, and they urged the developer to find a way to reconfigure the project. Sage Capital later appealed that decision.
The redwood trees are all situated along the southeast portion of the parcel, essentially blocking the site from being built out, explained Sage Capital's attorney Pat Kelley. Trying to build a development around the trees would eat into his client's profits, costing them "millions of dollars," he said.
"It's not that we don't like trees, it's just that these trees are dead center in the middle of the lot," he said. "We know that everyone in the community is troubled by the idea of doing this development and removing these trees, and that's something we're trying to address."
Kelley was speaking on Wednesday night in front of what might have been the most well-attended Parks Commission meeting in recent memory. He urged the commission to table the discussion for another night, giving his firm a little more time to find an alternative that would save the trees. In the last day, he said, they had hired a new architect who could resolve the issue.
But the 80 or so residents at the meeting overwhelmingly opposed anything short of a denial. Many speakers, who own their own single-family homes nearby, said the redwoods were too precious to lose for this project.
"The developer bought the site knowing there were nine heritage trees; they knew those trees are protected," said Kim Copher, a nearby resident. "They hoped they could get swift approval for this design without any thought for the trees."
Was this a crowd of NIMBYs? Many opponents took pains to explain they weren't opposed to development in general, but this specific project crossed the line. They described the Sage Capital plan as bloated: At 3,100 square feet with a maximum-sized basement, it would be more than twice as large as the average house in the neighborhood.
The Parks Commission sided with the residents, saying they would reject the appeal.
"A 3,100 square foot housing isn't what we could consider conforming for this neighborhood," said Commission Chairman Jonathan Herbach. "This is a property where it's possible to build something reasonable and conforming in a way that preserves the trees."
Sage Capital could take legal action if it wished to further pursue its project, or the firm could reapply with a smaller proposal.
Following the meeting, Kelley could not immediately say what his clients might do next.