An area of Mountain View dominated by diffuse industrial buildings is about to undergo a major transformation, after the Mountain View City Council on Tuesday approved a 303-unit mixed-use housing project for the Terra Bella neighborhood of the city.
The project, which won unanimous support by the council, will replace surface street parking lots near the corner of Shoreline Boulevard and Highway 101 with seven-story apartments and for-sale condos. Showing the stark contrast in land uses, future residents will have next door neighbors that include the Church of Scientology and a company that makes security robots.
The housing proposed at 1001 N. Shoreline Boulevard is also a clear example of the city's strategy in recent years to reduce traffic by co-locating jobs and housing. The apartments and condos will be right next door to the recently completed office building at the corner of Shoreline and Terra Bella Avenue, which is currently leased to Google. The housing and offices are so integrated that they will share a parking garage, which will serve employees during weekdays and residents in the evening.
The hope, said Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga, is that the close proximity means more people will walk or bike to work — either to the offices next door or into the city's North Bayshore tech park — and that the city will see a decline in car commuters.
"If we don't, then we really have a real issue about our whole thought process of putting housing next to jobs," Abe-Koga said.
The project places the seven-story apartment building north of the offices, abutting the northbound onramp connecting Shoreline to Highway 101, with 203 units above two levels of podium parking. To the east of the offices along Terra Bella will be a similar seven-story building with 100 condos. Thirty of the apartments and 10 of the condos will be available at below-market-rate for a mix of low and moderate-income households.
Council members praised the project for having a mix of ownership and rental units with a range of affordability, with Councilman John McAlister saying the city needs a "smorgasbord" of housing options as it continues to grow.
But the project also faced criticism for its sheer size, particularly the height and density of the housing compared to the neighboring uses. Several residents living in the single-family neighborhood to the south told council members they opposed the project on grounds that it would exacerbate traffic, and worried it could set a precedent for massive buildings across all of Terra Bella.
"We're not opposed to development or housing, just to the scale of this particular project in this area," said resident Albert Jeans. "I'm concerned about the precedent this sets for future development in this city."
Worries of precedent-setting come, in part, because there is no solid plan for redeveloping Terra Bella on the whole. While city officials often have a clear roadmap for neighborhood development through "precise plans," no such document exists for Terra Bella. Council members have long said the area needs a precise plan, but have been reluctant to commit the staff time and resources to create one.
While the project is huge compared to its neighbors and would tower over the Taco Bell to the south, McAlister said he believes the project is far enough away from existing residents that it should have a muted effect on them.
"To me this is somewhat isolated, it's close to the freeway, it's away from neighborhoods," he said. "It has industrial to the west, it has some light industrial to the south and a freeway to the north, so I think my concerns about traffic and all that would be tempered just because of the location."
Several speakers at the meeting urged the council to support the housing as a means to further dig Mountain View out of its jobs-housing imbalance, saying projects like the one before them can alleviate the housing shortage and, in turn, bring down gridlocked commute traffic.
"The city has a serious lack of housing," said resident David Watson. "The office uses are generating the majority of vehicle miles traveled into the city because there aren't enough homes for people to live near their job — ideally walking distance from their jobs."
The sticking point for the council wasn't in the size of the project, but in the lack of amenities and community benefits for the area. The developer is planning to cut a $15.8 million check to the city in lieu of providing park space for the future residents, and much of the $4.2 million in community benefit funding isn't geared toward residents in and around Terra Bella at all. The majority of the money will instead go toward public easements to run sewer and water infrastructure into North Bayshore.
"I believe we have a practice, and I personally have the philosophy, that community benefits should be spent in the neighborhood that has the project," said Councilwoman Lisa Matichak. "And to me the easement, that $2.9 million, is not a huge benefit to the Terra Bella neighborhood."
Council members agreed to have staff explore the possibility of using that funding to convert the Mountain View Recycling Center to the east, owned by the city and occupied by Recology, into a public park.
Another snag in the housing project was what to do with 3,000 square feet of retail space, to be included in the apartment complex, in the event that it completely fails. For years, the developer has asserted that retail may not be able to survive in the area, and that it would be difficult to find willing tenants to fill the space. Rather than let it go vacant for years, city officials suggested that the retail space could be converted into some other use to serve the neighborhood — but only after the developer puts in a good faith effort.
The original plan was to give retail a chance for two years after the project is complete, but city council members voted 5-2 to contract that duration to just one year, with council members Abe-Koga and McAlister opposed.