The Mountain View City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve what will be the first housing project in the office-laden East Whisman area, making good on an effort to revamp the area with high-density housing and balance the region's jobs-housing imbalance.
But the 7-0 vote came with misgivings about the compromises made along the way. The 408-unit project at 400 Logue Avenue cut out all of the ownership housing that was originally included -- making all of the homes rentals -- and received special exemptions to shortchange the city on affordable units in order to make the proposal financially feasible.
Faltering on either front would've effectively killed the project's viability, according to the developer, leaving council members with the ugly choice of approving the faulty project or killing yet another opportunity to build homes in the area. Even the biggest critics on the council ultimately landed on the side of approval.
The proposal by Miramar Capital dates back to 2018, when the developer got the greenlight to move forward after offering to help pay for a school in the Los Altos School District. The original concept was a hulking 11-story apartment complex with 134 ownership units and 236 rentals.
Some council members were surprised at the June 22 meeting to see how much the project had evolved since then, protesting that the city's planning process allows developers to completely redesign projects once they get their foot in the door. The project is now eight stories tall and has no ownership units, both resulting from a tough construction market and difficulties with financing, said Perry Hariri of Miramar Capital.
Adding to the concessions, the project normally would require 15% of the homes to be below-market-rate (BMR) units, but was instead getting a compromise. A total of 62 units would be affordable, but more than half (38) would be for middle-income families making between 80% and 120% of the area's median income. Only 24 would be available to low-income and very low-income families.
The concession, along with the loss of ownership units, was simply asking for too much, said Councilwoman Lisa Matichak.
"I'm a little bit dismayed at changing the BMR requirements when this is a fundamentally different project than what we were basing that decision on," she said.
Hariri said the project would cease to pencil out if it abided by the city's traditional affordable housing requirements, and that construction costs today are simply too high. The alternative is to do what many other developers do, which is to build no affordable units and simply cut the city a check to build affordable housing somewhere else.
"We can't do the project with a code-compliant BMR requirement," Hariri said.
Local and regional housing advocacy groups are still rallying behind the project, calling it a positive step for the East Whisman area. Jason Baker of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group said the project is well-positioned next to the Middlefield VTA light rail station, and provides units to both low- and middle-income residents.
"We know the Bay Area is in a dire housing shortage. A lack of housing poses a threat to our economy, our diversity and our quality of life," Baker said. "We need to produce more housing at all levels, 400 Logue is a great step in the right direction."
Hanging over the council's decision Tuesday was the ill-fated SummerHill Homes project, approved in May last year and originally meant to be the first housing project in East Whisman. The seven-story project had a mix of apartments, condos and townhouses, and also got a special exemption on affordable housing units. But in October, it became clear that the project was never going to get built because it was no longer financially feasible, and has reportedly been abandoned.
Losing housing in East Whisman is a serious problem. The area's zoning requires that office development be metered by housing construction, and that job and housing growth in the area must come in tandem in order to meet the city's ambitious goals for up to 5,000 new homes.
Councilman Lucas Ramirez said he was reluctant to force the developer to follow the city's standard BMR requirements, and that the council had to be wary of killing even more housing projects in East Whisman.
"I'm really concerned about having another entitled project that doesn't happen," he said. "We've already lost the SummerHill project."
Adding to the stakes on Tuesday night, Miramar Capital is also paying close to $4.6 million to the Los Altos School District in order to help finance a school in the city's San Antonio shopping center. Under the deal, Miramar has the rights to build an additional 36,000 square feet of development at 400 Logue in exchange for the funding. Council members have long made exceptions for less-than-ideal projects that have helped finance the school district's expensive efforts.