Right across from Mountain View's main transit center, a new four-story office building is being slated for development. At its Monday, Nov. 18 meeting, the City Council gave unanimous approval to plans by the San Francisco-based firm Marwood to build a new 28,000-square-foot office complex in the heart of downtown.
Located at the corner of West Evelyn Avenue and Hope Street, the lot where the new office building would go is currently occupied by a Subway franchise and low-density commercial space. Those buildings would need to be demolished to make way for the office tower, but Marwood representatives promised they would include about 6,500 square feet of new retail space on the ground floor.
"We feel this will deliver a suite of benefits to the city and the public," said Tim McEnery, Marwood director. "We want to improve the downtown existence and we're trying to go beyond our commitments."
More challenging was the issue of parking, which has been a major hurdle for most downtown development. Under the city's criteria, Marwood is required to provide at least 71 parking spaces, 25 of which would be available to the public at all hours of the day. City staff reported that the only way this much parking could fit on the site is by building an underground garage that would go at least three stories down. But even that plan presents problems because the Hope Street lot is so small that most of the space needed for an underground garage would be consumed by its car ramps.
Last year, city leaders proposed solving this dilemma by encouraging the Marwood team to cooperate with another development firm that is building a larger underground garage at the adjacent property. That other firm, the Robert Green Company, is planning to start construction late next year on a 180-room hotel and office complex that would be built on two city-owned parking lots. When built, this project will include an underground garage with 385 spaces. If this underground garage could be expanded to include the Marwood property, city officials estimated they could fit an additional 82 parking spaces.
For Marwood's team, that cooperation sounded good in concept, but the deal quickly soured as they complained they were getting saddled with all the expenses. Robert Green officials reportedly demanded Marwood pay for easements to the garage and a host of other expenses associated with expanding the garage. Since partnering on the shared garage, Marwood has been forced to pay more than $1 million in design, legal and other costs.
In the end, the expenses were becoming too much, said Vincent Woo, Marwood development manager. When added up, these accrued expenses would cause each parking space to cost up to four times more than usual, he said.
As an alternative, Marwood representatives proposed other parking options, such as a new off-site parking garage that would be built about two blocks away on the city-owned parking lot at the corner of California and Hope streets. If built, this garage could hold up to 360 vehicles, city officials estimate. Marwood would provide the city $8 million to help build this parking garage, but the city would be responsible for any extra costs.
City Manager Dan Rich acknowledged that trying to find any answer to the parking issue wouldn't be easy, and it would require nuanced negotiations on ownership, liability, easements and maintenance. At this time, he urged council members to consider the Evelyn Avenue development on its own, and to set aside the parking requirements. With council approval, city staff would enter into talks with the developers to hash out details that could then be brought back for public review at a later date, he said.
"There's significant discussions that would need to occur before anything would be brought back," Rich said. "We simply want to know if you're interested in exploring these options."
To that question, City Council members signaled they were eager to give it a try. In approving the project, the City Council asked staff to come back with an analysis on all of the parking options.