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Developer calls Mountain View's vision for the North Bayshore Gateway site 'fatally flawed'

A keystone project hinges on cooperation from SyWest, but the company says the city's plans don't pencil out

Mountain View's Gateway project in North Bayshore would pack new development along Highway 101 and Shoreline Boulevard. Courtesy city of Mountain View.

A critical part of Mountain View's plans for transforming North Bayshore into an urban, mixed-use center may be in limbo, with one of the key developers calling the city's vision both financially infeasible and completely unrealistic.

City officials on Tuesday revealed ambitious plans for the so-called Gateway site -- nearly 30 acres located just north of Highway 101 -- that densely packs housing, offices, retail, fitness and entertainment services all in one spot. Housing must be included, with the plan requiring between 1,200 and 2,800 homes across residential buildings that could tower up to 15 stories tall.

But the Gateway Master Plan hinges on the two property owners in the area, Google and SyWest, agreeing on that vision and turning the plans into a reality, and so far that partnership looks precarious at best. Google was quick to support the master plan, while SyWest slammed the proposal as financial infeasible to the point of being "fatally flawed," criticizing it as an aspirational document with standards that are destined for failure.

"We are dismayed to see the City essentially 'force' their conclusion to this process without actual buy-in and support of the property owners most directly affected by this plan," SyWest President Bill Vierra said in a letter to the city. "We believe our input has been largely dismissed and must oppose this master plan in its current form."

Disputes over how to develop the property have gone on for more than four years now, with Google and SyWest failing to come to an agreement on the Gateway site in 2019. With the two companies apparently at an impasse, the City Council stepped in and sought to create the city's own master plan that both developers could hopefully live with.

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The resulting plan includes up to 300,000 square feet of retail, entertainment and hospitality and up to 500,000 square feet of office space. Development will be metered by housing construction at the Gateway site, with a strict requirement that at least 500 units be built and ready for occupancy before any offices open.

Development plans for the Gateway site include a mix of offices, housing and retail. Courtesy city of Mountain View.

But any talk on the nuts and bolts of the master plan was overshadowed at the Aug. 18 Environmental Planning Commission meeting by SyWest's letter, with commission members wondering whether the plan has any chance of coming to fruition. SyWest owns about 16 acres of the Gateway property, and insists that the city's "lofty" expectations don't pencil out, particularly after COVID-19.

"No one can honestly assume that unanchored small retail and restaurant density nearing 100,000 square feet that must line street fronts is, or ever will be again, 'feasible' in a post-COVID world," Vierra wrote in the letter.

It's unclear exactly what SyWest wants. At the meeting, Vierra told commission members that office development is the most lucrative option in North Bayshore and can be used to offset the high cost of building housing and retail space. But SyWest has yet to formally submit a proposal for its 16-acre piece of the Gateway site and has not requested office development rights, leaving it an open question what the company thinks would work instead of the master plan.

In areas like North Bayshore and East Whisman that have been marked for rapid redevelopment, city planners have acknowledged that offices can be used as an incentive in order to get more housing and retail services built, in some cases mandating that office and housing developers work together to make housing financially feasible.

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About 250,000 square feet of office development allowed in North Bayshore remains unallocated, and the city could award it to SyWest as a way to balance out the cost of building out the Gateway Master Plan, said Senior City Planner Martin Alkire.

"That could become part of the equation, perhaps as some currency or more attractive amount of office square footage that can help make a larger development more feasible," Alkire said.

The city's Gateway Master Plan puts entertainment services close to Highway 101, with housing and offices farther north. Courtesy city of Mountain View.

Commission member Bill Cranston said he supported the city's vision for the Gateway site, but said the city ought to go back and do a financial analysis to investigate whether SyWest's claims are true. It's possible that the company's complaints are unfounded, he said, but at this point it's hard to know whether the commission is backing a plan that has no chance of being built.

"That's my biggest concern. It may be a nice vision but it seems unlikely to move ahead at this point," he said.

Commission member Preeti Hehmeyer said she was fine with having the city take another look at the feasibility of the master plan, but that the city's priorities may be off track. Mountain View should draft a vision that the community wants to see in North Bayshore, rather than tinker with it until developers feel that they can make a sufficient profit.

"I'm not sure that this is the role of the city, to make sure that it's economically viable for a developer," she said. "We should plan for what we want."

The commission voted 5-0 to recommend the City Council approve the master plan, and that city staff should provide the council with a detailed financial feasibility analysis to be considered alongside the adoption of the plan.

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Developer calls Mountain View's vision for the North Bayshore Gateway site 'fatally flawed'

A keystone project hinges on cooperation from SyWest, but the company says the city's plans don't pencil out

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Thu, Aug 19, 2021, 1:24 pm

A critical part of Mountain View's plans for transforming North Bayshore into an urban, mixed-use center may be in limbo, with one of the key developers calling the city's vision both financially infeasible and completely unrealistic.

City officials on Tuesday revealed ambitious plans for the so-called Gateway site -- nearly 30 acres located just north of Highway 101 -- that densely packs housing, offices, retail, fitness and entertainment services all in one spot. Housing must be included, with the plan requiring between 1,200 and 2,800 homes across residential buildings that could tower up to 15 stories tall.

But the Gateway Master Plan hinges on the two property owners in the area, Google and SyWest, agreeing on that vision and turning the plans into a reality, and so far that partnership looks precarious at best. Google was quick to support the master plan, while SyWest slammed the proposal as financial infeasible to the point of being "fatally flawed," criticizing it as an aspirational document with standards that are destined for failure.

"We are dismayed to see the City essentially 'force' their conclusion to this process without actual buy-in and support of the property owners most directly affected by this plan," SyWest President Bill Vierra said in a letter to the city. "We believe our input has been largely dismissed and must oppose this master plan in its current form."

Disputes over how to develop the property have gone on for more than four years now, with Google and SyWest failing to come to an agreement on the Gateway site in 2019. With the two companies apparently at an impasse, the City Council stepped in and sought to create the city's own master plan that both developers could hopefully live with.

The resulting plan includes up to 300,000 square feet of retail, entertainment and hospitality and up to 500,000 square feet of office space. Development will be metered by housing construction at the Gateway site, with a strict requirement that at least 500 units be built and ready for occupancy before any offices open.

But any talk on the nuts and bolts of the master plan was overshadowed at the Aug. 18 Environmental Planning Commission meeting by SyWest's letter, with commission members wondering whether the plan has any chance of coming to fruition. SyWest owns about 16 acres of the Gateway property, and insists that the city's "lofty" expectations don't pencil out, particularly after COVID-19.

"No one can honestly assume that unanchored small retail and restaurant density nearing 100,000 square feet that must line street fronts is, or ever will be again, 'feasible' in a post-COVID world," Vierra wrote in the letter.

It's unclear exactly what SyWest wants. At the meeting, Vierra told commission members that office development is the most lucrative option in North Bayshore and can be used to offset the high cost of building housing and retail space. But SyWest has yet to formally submit a proposal for its 16-acre piece of the Gateway site and has not requested office development rights, leaving it an open question what the company thinks would work instead of the master plan.

In areas like North Bayshore and East Whisman that have been marked for rapid redevelopment, city planners have acknowledged that offices can be used as an incentive in order to get more housing and retail services built, in some cases mandating that office and housing developers work together to make housing financially feasible.

About 250,000 square feet of office development allowed in North Bayshore remains unallocated, and the city could award it to SyWest as a way to balance out the cost of building out the Gateway Master Plan, said Senior City Planner Martin Alkire.

"That could become part of the equation, perhaps as some currency or more attractive amount of office square footage that can help make a larger development more feasible," Alkire said.

Commission member Bill Cranston said he supported the city's vision for the Gateway site, but said the city ought to go back and do a financial analysis to investigate whether SyWest's claims are true. It's possible that the company's complaints are unfounded, he said, but at this point it's hard to know whether the commission is backing a plan that has no chance of being built.

"That's my biggest concern. It may be a nice vision but it seems unlikely to move ahead at this point," he said.

Commission member Preeti Hehmeyer said she was fine with having the city take another look at the feasibility of the master plan, but that the city's priorities may be off track. Mountain View should draft a vision that the community wants to see in North Bayshore, rather than tinker with it until developers feel that they can make a sufficient profit.

"I'm not sure that this is the role of the city, to make sure that it's economically viable for a developer," she said. "We should plan for what we want."

The commission voted 5-0 to recommend the City Council approve the master plan, and that city staff should provide the council with a detailed financial feasibility analysis to be considered alongside the adoption of the plan.

Comments

Eric C
Registered user
Willowgate
on Aug 19, 2021 at 2:22 pm
Eric C, Willowgate
Registered user
on Aug 19, 2021 at 2:22 pm

If a developer can't make a profit, why would they agree to build it?


smorr
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Aug 19, 2021 at 2:30 pm
smorr, Monta Loma
Registered user
on Aug 19, 2021 at 2:30 pm

With so many companies allowing or mandating that employees work remotely, and closing some of their office buildings, does it make sense to be planning to build more office space?


Raymond
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Aug 19, 2021 at 2:43 pm
Raymond , Monta Loma
Registered user
on Aug 19, 2021 at 2:43 pm

15 stories on bay mud?
8-15' above present sea level?
How much open space for 3000 to 8000 people living there? Dimensions?


Dan Waylonis
Registered user
Jackson Park
on Aug 19, 2021 at 4:55 pm
Dan Waylonis, Jackson Park
Registered user
on Aug 19, 2021 at 4:55 pm

Once again, meddling by the MV planning will derail developers from building. It’s really no wonder MV is so far behind in building housing. The city’s involvement should be to set zoning and height restrictions. That’s it.


J Cierra
Registered user
Sylvan Park
on Aug 19, 2021 at 6:53 pm
J Cierra, Sylvan Park
Registered user
on Aug 19, 2021 at 6:53 pm

Really, SyWest? The plan that was not a problem in the past, but you want a change after so much time?

It will be interesting to see how much money or additional concessions SyWest will want by this intentional disruption.


Santa Rita Mom
Registered user
The Crossings
on Aug 19, 2021 at 9:24 pm
Santa Rita Mom, The Crossings
Registered user
on Aug 19, 2021 at 9:24 pm

ANY further development of ANY kind should be halted until the city of Mountain View can come up with a PLAN to provide appropriate levels of service to the people we already have living here, let alone pumping in thousands more.

I would love answers from the city about why, if they knew this was the sort of development they want to allow, they agreed to sell water rights to East Palo Alto for a pittance. Now they want more people but no more water, fire service, police, schools or any other public services. Why should the people who already live here suffer further destruction to their quality of life because the city council sees dollar signs?

Not only that, they want to allow high-rise buildings, which are far less safe than those within the current limits. What happens when we have a fire in one of these monstrosities? Are we okay with not having the appropriate equipment to deal with the situation? Is there a PLAN for that? If so, what, exactly, is it and what will it cost? Will the taxes on the new construction pay for the new infrastructure or are all of us going to have to foot the bill?

We pay a lot of money for city services here but get precious little information in return. If the city has a plan, then it should be something more substantial than building on every square inch of dirt and taxing the daylights out of it.


JS
Registered user
Rengstorff Park
on Aug 19, 2021 at 9:42 pm
JS, Rengstorff Park
Registered user
on Aug 19, 2021 at 9:42 pm

Just make the 30 acres filled with 80 story apartment buildings so we can meet half of the 11,000+ homes the state of Kalifornia wants Mountain View to build.


ivg
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2021 at 9:35 am
ivg, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Aug 20, 2021 at 9:35 am

Yeah, the water crisis is awful. After driving out undesirable people, MV residents may have to let their lawns die.


quixos
Registered user
Bailey Park
on Aug 20, 2021 at 6:18 pm
quixos, Bailey Park
Registered user
on Aug 20, 2021 at 6:18 pm

Where do I begin? This was such a REALLY BAD idea from it's initial proposal, by a town counsel gone all-in on build-build-build. (By the way, many of the current council members also ACTUALLY seriously considered building a TRAM to go from the east side to this so called "Destination Development." It never made sense, it was always antithetical to the vibe of this area, and was (and I guess, still is) a very scary prospect for those of us who have been here a while. I was riding around on my bike today, and there are literally MILLIONS of square feet of unoccupied office buildings in this town, and I also suspect, many many vacancies in high end and apartments. And by the way, we have a very likely and unrelenting persistent drought due to global warming that is going to very soon make WATER a big deal. We need to elect a new counsel that are no longer the lapdogs of Google et al and developers, and start to get real. This town is still a wonderful place to live, but due to the less than brilliant planners and counsel folks, the egg laying goose will soon stop laying. Fie on this project! It should be buried for good, and Google's idea of a "Google Village" should be nixed.


Bernie Brightman
Registered user
Whisman Station
on Aug 21, 2021 at 10:30 pm
Bernie Brightman, Whisman Station
Registered user
on Aug 21, 2021 at 10:30 pm

Ever notice how on the news they're always talking abour Russian oligarchs this and oligarchs that? How come you never hear them say "American oligarchs"? Because that's what's going on here. Oligarchs squabbling. No telling what will come out of it, but one thing you can be sure of: we, the every day joe is going to be screwed over while these fat cats reap billions on our land, our water, our air, our sight lines.
Kill the rich.


Randy Guelph
Registered user
Cuernavaca
on Aug 22, 2021 at 9:47 am
Randy Guelph, Cuernavaca
Registered user
on Aug 22, 2021 at 9:47 am

Mr. Brightman, I don't think your proposed solution in the last sentence of your post would work out very well for all the millionaire homeowners in Mountain View.


Jeremy Hoffman
Registered user
Rengstorff Park
on Aug 22, 2021 at 2:19 pm
Jeremy Hoffman, Rengstorff Park
Registered user
on Aug 22, 2021 at 2:19 pm

Mountain View Fire Station No. 5 at Shoreline and Crittenden is literally less than a mile from the proposed development. I'm baffled that anyone thinks fire safety in 8 story buildings is an unsolved problem in America in 2021.


Jeremy Hoffman
Registered user
Rengstorff Park
on Aug 22, 2021 at 2:33 pm
Jeremy Hoffman, Rengstorff Park
Registered user
on Aug 22, 2021 at 2:33 pm

We've got the opportunity to build something really exciting and successful that serves a lot of our neighbors, but I'm struggling to stay optimistic after years of this. I hope Mountain View isn't killing the golden goose with years of plan revisions and design reviews and haggling over community benefits and inclusionary subsidized units. Like, for that last, I fully support BMR housing, but it'd be better for Mountain View renters to have, say, 10% of 10,000 (1000 new subsidized homes, plus 9000 market rate), than 20% of zero (0 new subsidized homes, plus 0 market rate).

To those that have been working so hard on this project for a decade-plus -- I'm rooting for you, keep up the good work!


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Aug 22, 2021 at 3:35 pm
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Aug 22, 2021 at 3:35 pm

Do you think All residential property owners North of Central Expressway (the tracks) should pay for the new schools needed?

THAT is exactly what the MVWSD consultants have proposed to the Board. And the Board - at the last meeting seemed to not have much complaint about THAT.
To me, and my Tax Fairness mind - that is incredible! - Google and other OFFICE SPACE OWNERS (and this development of offices) will not pay a single cent of new taxes (the Proposal) to support new schools.

Your vote (if registered) for MVWSD Board members, your Voice, and your comment (to [email protected]). If you live and vote in the Proposal's new tax district boundaries (not finalized)- you might give your Trustees your opinion.

BTW - there are other ways to raise local tax money for new schools. Many other ways!


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Aug 22, 2021 at 4:08 pm
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Aug 22, 2021 at 4:08 pm

@Jeremy H. Yes - in MV we have a looooong ladder fire truck that can reach up as necessary to the 10 story residential building "Avalon Towers" on El Camino very near to Whole Foods and Walmart. And we have a continuing agreement with Palo Alto to share their (newer) looooong ladder fire truck that can do the same job.


SRB
Registered user
St. Francis Acres
on Aug 22, 2021 at 5:05 pm
SRB, St. Francis Acres
Registered user
on Aug 22, 2021 at 5:05 pm

@Steven Nelson, are you referring to MVWSD exploring a Mello-Roos Tax District? Hopefully the Voice will cover this.

Re: this article, not sure why the City is being blamed. Sounds more like a custody battle between two corporations; each pushing for a better share.


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