City of Mountain View officials on Tuesday signed a deal to lease and eventually buy an unused property from the Valley Transportation Authority to provide safe parking for homeless residents. The 2-acre parcel, formerly a parking lot for the Evelyn light rail station, is expected to be built out with about 180 apartments over the coming years.
Under the deal approved by the City Council in a 6-0 vote, Mountain View will pay VTA $11 million to lease the site for the next 65 years. Councilman John McAlister recused himself from the vote due to his role on the VTA board of directors.
Long before the lease expires, Mountain View city officials say they intend to buy the land for an undetermined price. By the time that sale happens, the city expects to have formal proposals from third-party developers for how the property can be best built out with housing.
The property, at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Pioneer Way, was a transit park-and-ride lot, but it hasn't seen much use since the Evelyn light rail station closed in 2015.
Plans to develop the site have been in the works for nearly three years as officials from the two government agencies slowly negotiated over the best usage. The property is currently zoned for industrial uses, which would need to be modified to allow a housing development.
VTA officials say they were willing to heavily discount the property because Mountain View shared a mutual interest in building housing. On top of the $11 million lease price, the city also agreed to pay $2 million to retain its exclusive option to purchase the site. City officials say they could be ready to buy the land within the next 18 months.
"Mountain View, to its credit, has been active in affordable housing development to meet the needs of low-income households, and this is consistent with what the city has done," said Ron Golem, VTA's real estate director. "The big picture for us is we're excited to partner on the project."
Similar plans are also moving forward for transit-oriented housing near major VTA rail stops in San Jose, including a 570-unit apartment project near the Tamien station and about 300 apartments near the Blossom Hill station.
It remains to be seen how much housing can fit on the 2-acre Evelyn Avenue site. At a minimum, city density rules would require 150 housing units, but it is expected to contain much more. When built, the units are expected to go to households earning under 120 percent of the area median income.
Mountain View officials noted multiple incentives for securing ownership of the land. By acquiring it, the city could keep the housing affordable in perpetuity. Plus, the city would also have full control over the development process and balancing community input.
Another bonus in securing the land is the promise of a new location for a temporary safe parking lot. Earlier this year, city officials estimated the VTA lot could house about 20 vehicles. The city currently has space for just eight small-size vehicles, but that safe-parking capacity will jump to about 20 in the coming weeks when a new Terra Bella lot opens.
Finding suitable safe parking sites has been an urgent priority ever since the council voted in March to prohibit large vehicles from parking on the street. There are nearly 300 inhabited vehicles on Mountain View's streets, and about two-thirds of those are large RVs or trailers that will be restricted in the coming months. City Property Manager Dennis Drennan estimated the site would be ready for safe parking by early fall.
However, there were already early signs that a safe parking lot could face resistance in the North Whisman neighborhood. Echoing the concerns of other property owners, Sunnyvale Foreign Car Service owner Matthew Pataky urged the city not to warehouse the city's homeless population near his business.
"I'm generally concerned about the safe parking concept. To me, it sounds like anyone can sleep in their car," he said. "For me, I have a lot of hiring clients that drop off expensive cars right there, and people are going to be going to bathroom in the bushes and trees."
City officials have not discussed any specific plans for amenities such as bathroom facilities, lighting and security. City Manager Dan Rich emphasized that the land acquisition was only the first step in a lengthy process.