Dense housing kicks off transformation of East Whisman

Developers seek to build condos, apartments in industrial area of the city

An 11-story housing project is being proposed on Logue Avenue by Miramar Capital. It's among the most dense housing proposals to date and would stand 128 feet tall. Image courtesy of the city of Mountain View.

Two developers are seeking to build some of Mountain View's densest housing projects to date, kicking off plans to dramatically change the East Whisman area of the city from light industrial and office buildings to urban mixed-use.

The two proposals, located on Logue Avenue and East Middlefield Road, would bring a combined 831 housing units to East Whisman, and both promise a mix of rental and ownership units. The projects are also among the tallest the city has seen -- the Middlefield project would include two seven-story buildings, while the Logue project proposes an 11-story building that would stand 128 feet tall.

The projects are a sign of changes to come for East Whisman, which is the area south of Highway 101 between North Whisman Road, the Sunnyvale border and Central Expressway (excluding Whisman Station). The Mountain View City Council has sought to rezone it into an urban, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood that closely balances office and residential growth.

Today, East Whisman is mostly covered in one- and two-story office buildings with huge expanses of surface parking. Council members are expected to vote in the fall on the new vision for the area detailed in the East Whisman Precise Plan, a blueprint for future development.

Even with the precise plan months away from approval, developers have sought to get a head start on transforming the area, putting forth so-called gatekeeper projects with dense housing and office space in the past year.

Perhaps the most eye-opening project is at 400 Logue Ave., where developer Miramar Capital is proposing to build 367 residential units on a 2.5-acre site. The existing single-story office building would be demolished and replaced by two residential buildings, one 11 stories tall with 134 one-, two- and three-bedroom ownership units, and the other a six- or seven-story structure with 236 rental units.

The Logue Avenue project, which was reviewed at a Development Review Committee meeting last month, is proposing two-level subterranean parking with about 400 spaces, and is expected to run afoul of at least a couple of zoning restrictions in the draft East Whisman Precise Plan. The maximum height for buildings in the precise plan is 95 feet, and the project is unlikely to meet the plan's standards for building setbacks, according to a report by the developer.

Aiming to address the concerns of city planning staff earlier this year, the report notes that the buildings will be broken up into three components -- the base, middle and top -- each with its own materials, colors and details to break up what would otherwise be a towering facade.

Also in the city's planning pipeline is a project by SummerHill Homes, which is proposing to build 464 homes along a stretch of Middlefield Road east of North Whisman Road, about one-third of a mile away from Miramar's Logue Avenue project. SummerHill's plans for the property have changed dramatically since it was first proposed in January 2018, and it now has five buildings ranging from four to seven stories tall. The project includes 194 ownership condos, 270 apartments and a 0.4-acre public park.

David Conklin, speaking on behalf of the owners of the Middlefield property, urged the city's Environmental Planning Commission at its June 19 meeting to support the project as the first step toward transforming East Whisman. Mountain View envisions responsible, balanced growth in the area, he said, and SummerHill's mix of rental and ownership homes would set a good tone for what could one day become "one of the most desirable places to live and work in Silicon Valley."

Conklin also warned that if city leaders turn down the project, it would dash any near-term plans to redevelop the property.

"In the absence of the city's support for this project, the current owners will revert to what they've done since they developed these (buildings) in the 1960s, which is to continue leasing them as commercial R&D facilities," Conklin said. "(The city) will miss a great opportunity to see residential development on the site for the foreseeable future."

Both the SummerHill and Miramar projects are moving forward early because the developers are subsidizing the construction of a new school on the other end of town. The Los Altos School District recently agreed to purchase land in the San Antonio shopping center for $155 million, and is planning to defray the costs through a complex process known as the transfer of development rights (TDRs).

The school district is purchasing a property zoned for high-density development, and has agreed not to fully develop the land and instead "sell" developers the remaining 610,000 square feet of density allowed on the property. Miramar Capital is purchasing 72,000 square feet of development rights to supplement its Logue Avenue project, which allows the project to exceed the limits of the East Whisman Precise Plan. SummerHill Homes purchased 10,000 square feet of extra density from the school district.

The TDR deal with the Los Altos School District gave both projects swift approval to go through the city's planning process as gatekeeper projects, putting them far ahead of other redevelopment proposals for East Whisman.

The early start, however, means both housing projects are subject to rules and requirements that are a moving target, and staffers at the Planning Commission meeting pointed to several ways in which SummerHill Homes' project fall short of the draft East Whisman Precise Plan. One of the roads between the buildings, for example, is between 11 and 15 feet narrower than the standards for the area, which combined with the out-of-compliance building setbacks would create a stark canyon effect.

City staffers also said the project falls short on requirements to provide 100 square feet of common open space per unit, and that SummerHill sought to use non-compliant open areas on the site to count toward that requirement.

A majority of planning commissioners agreed that SummerHill was asking for too much, but by varying degrees. Commission member Joyce Yin said the city would be setting the wrong pace for future East Whisman projects by flatly ignoring parts of the precise plan, and that she leaned toward allowing no exceptions. Commission chair Pamela Baird said future iterations of the project should comply with more of East Whisman's zoning restrictions, but that the city should be careful not to throw too many hurdles at a project that's the first out the gate and partially funding a new school.

"I don't want to put too many impediments on this project going forward," she said.

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14 people like this
Posted by RoxieK
a resident of Slater
on Jul 5, 2019 at 3:56 pm

So, the ink is barely dry on the new East Whisman Precise Plan and right out of the gate two projects are pushing the limits of building height, street width and open space. What good is a Precise Plan if it's limitations are ignored? A school clear across town is NO reason to throw East Whisman residents under the bus. Planners, please stick to your guns. You have a plan, stick to it.

2 people like this
Posted by The Business Man
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 5, 2019 at 9:40 pm

The Business Man is a registered user.

The City doesn't make "percise plans"

It makes fiction becasue there is no signed obligations to actually build what is proposed by the developer prior to getting approval from the City.

Thus the City is not accepting any "Percise plan" at all. It is just a "HOPE" that it will be developed.

6 people like this
Posted by psr
a resident of The Crossings
on Jul 6, 2019 at 10:28 am

I'm always interested in these projects (lauded by the City Council, who will get more tax dollars to fritter away) and how they are sold to the residents as "serving the community" and "helping to ease the "housing crisis'" but not peep is said about anything other than constructing these monstrosities.

Where is the article about where the water is coming from to serve these buildings? Could it be because the City Council saw fit to sell water rights to Palo Alto for a pittance? Where is the article about schools to serve the children in these buildings? How about fire and police services? Where is the article about new equipment to serve these over-sized structures?

The City Council is happy to pat itself on the back for being "progressive" which is apparently code for stuffing people into the city a quickly as possible with no regard for current residents. or for those they are packing in. Then we have the City "Planners" which is apparently code for people who rubber-stamp whatever stupidity the council proposes without regard to any plan other than boosting tax revenue.

It would be nice if either these people did the jobs they are purportedly there to do or if they changed theirs titles to something more descriptive of their actions. I'm pretty tired of the deception.

6 people like this
Posted by Central Planning
a resident of Castro City
on Jul 6, 2019 at 12:03 pm

It’s amazing how central planning is a failed approach for allocating goods and services, but many still feel that it works for planning buildings. City planners, council members and public interest groups can think they know how to plan but it is all an illusion. People that build housing invest their own money and won’t build unless there are plenty of people willing to buy their product. So it should be no surprise that developers propose plans that do not fit into the plans of people that have no vested interest in the success or failure of a development.

Rather than plan which products should be produced, city planners should focus on the services they are responsible for the public to provide, like water, electricity, streets, trash removal, etc.

6 people like this
Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Jul 6, 2019 at 3:18 pm

LongResident is a registered user.

This is an example of a cliche dictating development plans. The light rail that serves the location of the 11 story building is nearly useless. It's too slow to use to go anywhere very far away, and it runs too infrequently to make a simple link to downtown Mountain View and to Moffett Field. Thinking that all those apartments will only have 1 car each is not based in reality. It will be a nightmare.

Now, here's something that might actually help. The council is hell bent on providing overhead transit to link downtown to Google. This light rail has another opportunity. As part of the housing development at Moffett Field, make a split in the light rail. Stop the winding long routes to San Jose at Moffett Field. Then have a new service built on the light rail infrastructure. Operate a free shuttle services to link NASA to downtown Mountain View, more frequently than VTA can afford to run empty cars all around kingdom come to serve San Jose. In peak hours operate this mini light rail every 10 minutes to make it easy for these residents to connect to downtown Mountain View. It would serve both the North Whisman/Ellis area and NASA to link them to downtown Mountain View the way the overhead scheme would work for Google. They could probably run shorter trains and they might even be able to move quicker than the current VTA service between those "stations" such as they are. Little used rain shelters could become something useful.

I bet this would be much cheaper than the overhead gondola deals for Google. It might actually salvage something useful out of the wasteful VTA light rail.

12 people like this
Posted by Happy
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 7, 2019 at 10:28 am

I'm happy to see greater density in a metro area with very high land costs. The very high land costs combined with low density housing leads to very high housing costs. I'm glad to see a push for higher densities that are more in-line with the cost of land.

2 people like this
Posted by LongResident
a resident of another community
on Jul 8, 2019 at 10:13 am

LongResident is a registered user.

These condo units are going to be very expensive. Look for them to cost $2 Million each. The apartments are going to be some of the highest price units in the city too. It's up to the city to get it right by requiring reasonable road spacing between the buildings. The developers will try to squeeze every drop of profit out of the project and only the city has the greater good in mind.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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