In a surprise proposal that replaces offices with housing, real estate developer SyWest has unveiled a new vision for North Bayshore that calls for more than 2,000 homes near Highway 101 and Shoreline Boulevard in Mountain View.
The redesign stands in stark contrast to the company's earlier plans for the so-called Gateway site into North Bayshore, a critical part of the city's planned transformation for the tech park. SyWest previously called for 880,000 square feet of offices alongside 740 residential units on its nearly 16-acre property.
The new proposal instead goes all-out on housing, with several 15-story residential buildings that would stand 160 feet tall -- towering over Mountain View's largest buildings. The sheer size of the project would put a dent in the city's chronic jobs-housing imbalance, SyWest representatives said in a statement last week.
But whether the ambitious plans will ever come to fruition remains uncertain. Residential development in North Bayshore has largely been infeasible without more lucrative office development to pay for steep city fees and building costs. SyWest had previously described its office component for the site as necessary, and representatives have not made clear how the updated proposal would pencil out.
North Bayshore's Gateway project has a long and storied history. Previously, the 25-acre property had split ownership between SyWest and LinkedIn, and the pair were ready to redevelop the property with nearly 1.5 million square feet of offices. But LinkedIn and Google agreed to a massive land swap in 2016 that put Google in charge of roughly 8 acres of the Gateway site.
SyWest and Google couldn't agree on what to do with the property, each putting forth competing visions that the City Council ultimately rejected in 2019. After a last-ditch effort to get the two companies to work together, the city has since scrapped both and started work on its own master plan for the site.
Very little has happened in the two years since, said Bill Vierra, SyWest's president and chief operating officer, and the wait has been uncomfortable. While the city has been cooking up its own plan for the Gateway site, Vierra said SyWest has been developing a revised vision that he hopes will win the city's favor.
"We got a little impatient and wanted to launch out on our own because the (master plan) hasn't been delivered," Vierra said. "So we designed a plan with what fits very well with the Gateway vision."
Much of the residential development planned in North Bayshore is spearheaded by Google, which is seeking to develop 7,000 homes across 122 acres of the city's northern tech park. Vierra said he believes there should be some diversity in who develops homes in the area, and that SyWest will be able to move faster than Google's 20-year development timeframe.
"We would be able to start right now," he said. "We own the real estate, we can operate and finance it."
But SyWest's announcement also comes with a warning, suggesting that the city could be on the cusp of killing its residential vision for the Gateway site.
Mountain View City Council members are scheduled to vote March 23 on whether to grant Google 1.3 million square feet in office development rights in North Bayshore outside of the Gateway project. Doing so would leave only 250,000 square feet of office space to be allocated to other developers in the area, including SyWest. In a statement March 15, SyWest officials said giving so much of the office development rights to Google would render development of the Gateway property infeasible for decades.
Office development can be seen as the vehicle through which residential development, open space, schools and other amenities are financed in North Bayshore, Vierra said. Yet the city could allocate the lion's share of office space to Google and leave the Gateway project behind, which he claims would ice out all the other development plans in the area.
"Everyone has acknowledged that office is the 'currency.' Office is able to pay for the mitigations that are necessary to pay for everything else to come to fruition," Vierra said. "No one can build residential in North Bayshore without some of the impacts or mitigation being paid for by the office."
It's unclear how awarding Google with office space would close the door on SyWest's latest proposal -- which does not include any offices. When asked, Vierra said the city's fees and required traffic mitigation should be placed on development in a "holistic" way, such that office construction in North Bayshore pays for housing in the Gateway area.
Complicating matters further, SyWest already has an earmarked allocation of 250,000 square feet of office development rights from the city on the Gateway property, but has yet to submit an application to actually use it. City officials are now weighing whether to to take that allocation back and give it to another interested developer.
Councilman Lucas Ramirez said SyWest shared its revised, housing-heavy Gateway plans to him and other council members last month, and that he could only speculate what the developer ultimately plans to do with the property. With no offices included in the revamp, it's not clear how awarding Google with office development rights would kill the Gateway proposal.
"If SyWest is changing their minds and they want to incorporate offices, that is their prerogative," Ramirez said. "But it would be different from the concept that they shared with the council."
Though SyWest is now requesting a holistic approach, Mountain View city staff suggest that the developer has declined a collaborative approach in the past. When city officials suggested that Google and SyWest's competing vision for the Gateway property be resolved in a mediated process, SyWest declined to participate. Ramirez pushed back on the idea that the council's upcoming vote could scuttle what could have been a strong partnership in building out North Bayshore.
"SyWest did not work with Google on a master plan that is mutual," Ramirez said. "It's disingenuous to say the city isn't being a good player here, we went out of our way to make it work."