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.