A majority of Mountain View City Council members on Tuesday supported plans to significantly boost the size of a large apartment complex along Middlefield Road, planting four-story buildings in a complex that's been around since the 1960s.
The proposed infill development at 555 W. Middlefield Road, which has been in the works for years, would bump up the number of units from 402 to 731 -- all without demolishing a single existing home. Council members sought to tweak the project at a Feb. 23 study session, but largely agreed to have it move forward.
Previous incarnations of the project received an icy reception, but for the most part proposed the same thing. Two surface parking lots at the Eaves Mountain View apartment complex would be nixed, making room for 329 units across two 50-foot-tall apartment buildings. Parking would be moved into underground garages, and 1.3 acres would be turned into a public park.
The housing boost, proposed by the developer AvalonBay Communities, won praise from housing advocates as a strategic response to the housing crisis. April Webster, a resident who lives across the street from the project, said she supported the project and that Mountain View needs to do what it can to keep the Bay Area affordable for service-sector workers.
"These members of our community keep the economy running, and they can't afford to live in Mountain View," she said. "I think it is critical that we provide more affordable housing so we don't end up displacing these members of our community, and I think continuing along the path we're on is untenable and unsustainable, and everyone's quality of life will suffer."
But other nearby residents have come out in sharp opposition to the project, arguing the expansion would be too dense for the area and would permanently damage the quality of life in the neighborhood. Daniel Shane, writing on behalf of a group called the Cypress Point Community Preservation Group, warned that the cumulative growth on and near Middlefield Road would cause numerous problems, including traffic snarls, parking overflow and vehicular collisions along Cypress Point Drive.
"We have drunk drivers having accidents and damaging property at Cypress Point Woods," Shane wrote in a letter prior to the council. "The doubling of tenants, their guests and all the vehicles at AvalonBay apartments will exacerbate our concerns about safety."
Shane also suggested that the public park would be "unwanted" and would mostly serve the apartments, and questioned the need for the open space when there are alternative parks nearby.
Tying up the council at the study session was whether to rezone the entire property from medium density residential to high density, which would allow between 36 and 80 units per acre. The proposal lands close to the middle, at around 55 units per acre, and some council members worried the rezoning would allow AvalonBay to scrap the current proposal and come back with something gigantic.
Joe Kirchofer, vice president of development for AvalonBay, assured the council that was not going to happen, and said that the company has been working exhaustively since 2015 to try to get the current proposal over the finish line.
"We have been pursuing this project for the last five years. We think this is the right way to develop the site," Kirchofer said. "We have no intention of throwing the approval out and starting the process over with a brand new project."
Still, the prospect worried people like Robert Cox, a resident and former planning commission member. He said the city could very well be forced to stomach a maximum density project that would raze the existing apartments, which are subject to the city's rent control law.
"I recommend the council determine whether an airtight legal guarantee can be made that the zoning change can be tied to this specific proposal," he said.
Council members were split on whether to support a special zoning standard specifically for the project, but a majority agreed to study the option. Councilman Lucas Ramirez said properties are frequently rezoned as part of a project's approval, and he didn't see a compelling reason to treat AvalonBay differently.
"I can't personally think of what distinguishes this project from those other projects where a General Plan amendment was approved to go up to high density," he said.
Efforts to cut down on the project's size, including lopping off one story of the apartments along Cypress Point Way, also fell flat at the study session, with only three council members supporting the idea.
AvalonBay is offering nearly $2 million in community benefit funding as part of the project, which remained uncommitted at the study session. Council members raised the possibility that the developer could provide a connection between Middlefield Road and Stevens Creek Trail, creating an important bike and pedestrian link to the neighborhood.
But the council stopped short of making it a requirement, citing concerns that the trail connection could be impossible for the developer to pull off as a condition of approval. Councilwoman Pat Showalter said creating a link to the trail could be difficult due to Highway 85, which runs along the east side of the project and is owned and operated by the state.
"We do not have jurisdiction over Caltrans and Highway 85, so there are some things that aren't going to work there," she said. "I think we need to be careful requiring something that may be infeasible."
The project is expected to come before the City Council for approval in the summer, with construction set to begin in 2023. Construction will be phased over a lengthy five years in order to avoid displacing current tenants.