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Mountain View City Council scraps downtown parking to build 120 affordable apartments

A sketch of the future 120-unit apartment complex on Bryant Street, which will replace a surface parking lot. Courtesy city of Mountain View.

A long surface parking lot next door to Mountain View City Hall will be replaced with apartments for low-income families, after the Mountain View City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to lease the city-owned property to an affordable housing developer.

The project, located along Bryant Street between California and Mercy streets, includes 120 apartments in five-story buildings facing downtown, tapering down to three stories as it approaches single-story homes to the west. It also has ground-floor retail and community space, designed with the intent to attract pedestrians, in sharp contrast to the "dead zones" created by office buildings in the downtown area.

The 7-0 vote has been a long time coming, with the city spending the last six years considering what to do with the 1.5-acre property known as "Lot 12." In 2015, the city flagged affordable housing and hotels as uses for two city-owned lots, which were always considered temporary parking and intended for future development.

The developer, Alta Housing, is proposing to build 120 apartments aimed at housing some of the lowest-income residents in the county, with 20 units set aside for those facing homelessness. Another 20 will be available for those making up to 30% of the area's median income (AMI), or $49,700 for a family of four, while 40 will be for those making between 30% and 50% of the AMI. Most market-rate housing projects do not include affordable units at these income levels.

But on the ground floor, the project has a different identity. About 2,200 square feet will be devoted to retail space, and another 8,000 will be devoted to community uses ranging from nonprofit and city meetings to maker space for start-ups, classes and workshops. Councilwoman Alison Hicks said the retail and community space is what's needed in the downtown area, and should be a template going forward.

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"I'm glad that this has more public interface, and that's something that I'd like to make sure we do more in the future," Hicks said. "I think that's what downtowns are all about -- not excluding the public."

Renderings show future housing will be built at a density between single-family homes to the west and tall commercial buildings to the east. Courtesy city of Mountain View.

Housing advocates have also come out in full support of the project, with regional groups sending letters praising the use of public land for badly needed affordable housing. Kelsey Banes, regional director of the group YIMBY Action, told council members the project fills an unmet need for housing for extremely low-income families and those experiencing homelessness, and that it's a big improvement over a long stretch of parking.

"This is an excellent proposal that would replace surface parking with homes," she said. "On the Peninsula I think we have prioritized having public spaces to store cars for too long, and this is reversing the trend to really prioritize our public land for housing."

With the Tuesday vote, the project will largely wind its way through the planning and development process without another look from the council. Alta Housing plans to receive approval from the city through Senate Bill 35, which allows for streamlined approval of affordable housing projects.

Though the project has a lot to like, it still had some sticking points that had council members worried. The project's financial feasibility teeters on economic forces out of the city's control, and it may require some future financial tweaks to stay viable. On top of that, the city is removing 160 parking spaces at a time when parking is already considered inadequate on parts of the downtown corridor.

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For its part, Alta Housing is pitching in $10.1 million, described as upfront cash for leasing the property, in order to help the city finance more parking elsewhere in the downtown area. Later in the meeting, council members weighed building a five-level parking garage that would replace Lot 5, located along Hope Street between Dana and Villa streets, and increase the number of parking spaces from 98 to 400.

The project will have its own parking, with 90 residential parking spaces and an additional five spaces for the first-floor retail space.

The loss of Lot 12 parking would also spell trouble for the Mountain View Farmers Market, which uses the parking lot on Thursdays for part of the year.

Financing the project has been an ongoing struggle, beset by higher construction costs and difficulty obtaining subsidies to pay for the apartments. Between early 2020 and today, Alta Housing said the cost of building the housing has spiked by an additional $16 million -- prompting the developer and the city to go back to the drawing board and find a way to pay for the project.

"There has been a significant funding challenge for affordable housing projects, not only in the region but statewide," said Wayne Chen, the city's assistant community development director. "There have been significant increases in development costs, the economy has been impacted and external funding sources are fluctuating."

In order to cobble together enough cash to pay for the project, which now exceeds $114 million, Alta Housing is tapping into more funding from Santa Clara County's Measure A bond and more funding through federal housing vouchers. The project also leverages $8 million in state funding, which was appropriated through SB 129 with help from State Sen. Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park).

Perhaps the most unusual provision to keep the project financially afloat is the use of a so-called "float-up" provision, a mechanism based on expected annual rent income, in which apartments originally planned to be available for families making up to 30% of the AMI would be converted to units for families making up to 60% AMI. This gives Alta Housing more rental cash, and can be an emergency tool for keeping the project from becoming infeasible. Doing so would be considered temporary and a last resort.

Council members voted to allow the project to slide through the planning process, but flagged a need for plenty of landscaping, trees and public art. They also agreed that the project's design needs some work to break up any massing to keep the building from looking like a stark, vertical wall.

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Mountain View City Council scraps downtown parking to build 120 affordable apartments

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Wed, Aug 25, 2021, 1:41 pm

A long surface parking lot next door to Mountain View City Hall will be replaced with apartments for low-income families, after the Mountain View City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to lease the city-owned property to an affordable housing developer.

The project, located along Bryant Street between California and Mercy streets, includes 120 apartments in five-story buildings facing downtown, tapering down to three stories as it approaches single-story homes to the west. It also has ground-floor retail and community space, designed with the intent to attract pedestrians, in sharp contrast to the "dead zones" created by office buildings in the downtown area.

The 7-0 vote has been a long time coming, with the city spending the last six years considering what to do with the 1.5-acre property known as "Lot 12." In 2015, the city flagged affordable housing and hotels as uses for two city-owned lots, which were always considered temporary parking and intended for future development.

The developer, Alta Housing, is proposing to build 120 apartments aimed at housing some of the lowest-income residents in the county, with 20 units set aside for those facing homelessness. Another 20 will be available for those making up to 30% of the area's median income (AMI), or $49,700 for a family of four, while 40 will be for those making between 30% and 50% of the AMI. Most market-rate housing projects do not include affordable units at these income levels.

But on the ground floor, the project has a different identity. About 2,200 square feet will be devoted to retail space, and another 8,000 will be devoted to community uses ranging from nonprofit and city meetings to maker space for start-ups, classes and workshops. Councilwoman Alison Hicks said the retail and community space is what's needed in the downtown area, and should be a template going forward.

"I'm glad that this has more public interface, and that's something that I'd like to make sure we do more in the future," Hicks said. "I think that's what downtowns are all about -- not excluding the public."

Housing advocates have also come out in full support of the project, with regional groups sending letters praising the use of public land for badly needed affordable housing. Kelsey Banes, regional director of the group YIMBY Action, told council members the project fills an unmet need for housing for extremely low-income families and those experiencing homelessness, and that it's a big improvement over a long stretch of parking.

"This is an excellent proposal that would replace surface parking with homes," she said. "On the Peninsula I think we have prioritized having public spaces to store cars for too long, and this is reversing the trend to really prioritize our public land for housing."

With the Tuesday vote, the project will largely wind its way through the planning and development process without another look from the council. Alta Housing plans to receive approval from the city through Senate Bill 35, which allows for streamlined approval of affordable housing projects.

Though the project has a lot to like, it still had some sticking points that had council members worried. The project's financial feasibility teeters on economic forces out of the city's control, and it may require some future financial tweaks to stay viable. On top of that, the city is removing 160 parking spaces at a time when parking is already considered inadequate on parts of the downtown corridor.

For its part, Alta Housing is pitching in $10.1 million, described as upfront cash for leasing the property, in order to help the city finance more parking elsewhere in the downtown area. Later in the meeting, council members weighed building a five-level parking garage that would replace Lot 5, located along Hope Street between Dana and Villa streets, and increase the number of parking spaces from 98 to 400.

The project will have its own parking, with 90 residential parking spaces and an additional five spaces for the first-floor retail space.

The loss of Lot 12 parking would also spell trouble for the Mountain View Farmers Market, which uses the parking lot on Thursdays for part of the year.

Financing the project has been an ongoing struggle, beset by higher construction costs and difficulty obtaining subsidies to pay for the apartments. Between early 2020 and today, Alta Housing said the cost of building the housing has spiked by an additional $16 million -- prompting the developer and the city to go back to the drawing board and find a way to pay for the project.

"There has been a significant funding challenge for affordable housing projects, not only in the region but statewide," said Wayne Chen, the city's assistant community development director. "There have been significant increases in development costs, the economy has been impacted and external funding sources are fluctuating."

In order to cobble together enough cash to pay for the project, which now exceeds $114 million, Alta Housing is tapping into more funding from Santa Clara County's Measure A bond and more funding through federal housing vouchers. The project also leverages $8 million in state funding, which was appropriated through SB 129 with help from State Sen. Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park).

Perhaps the most unusual provision to keep the project financially afloat is the use of a so-called "float-up" provision, a mechanism based on expected annual rent income, in which apartments originally planned to be available for families making up to 30% of the AMI would be converted to units for families making up to 60% AMI. This gives Alta Housing more rental cash, and can be an emergency tool for keeping the project from becoming infeasible. Doing so would be considered temporary and a last resort.

Council members voted to allow the project to slide through the planning process, but flagged a need for plenty of landscaping, trees and public art. They also agreed that the project's design needs some work to break up any massing to keep the building from looking like a stark, vertical wall.

Comments

laurasheaclark
Registered user
another community
on Aug 25, 2021 at 4:21 pm
laurasheaclark, another community
Registered user
on Aug 25, 2021 at 4:21 pm

The farmer's market is a smaller concern compared to huge loss of parking for those who attend performances at the MV Performing Arts Center, as well as Library customers and staff. Library customers and staff park in this lot every day since the other parking lots and garages fill up. What is the plan for these parking needs?


Bruce Karney
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Aug 25, 2021 at 5:30 pm
Bruce Karney, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Aug 25, 2021 at 5:30 pm

That's great news! Thanks, Council members!


Seth Neumann
Registered user
Waverly Park
on Aug 25, 2021 at 8:20 pm
Seth Neumann, Waverly Park
Registered user
on Aug 25, 2021 at 8:20 pm

So if I understand this correctly, we're going to spend $114 Million to build 120 units of "Affordable" housing? Who is paying for this and in what world is $1M per unit (by the time it actually gets built, if ever) of "affordable" housing affordable? Wouldn't be a lot cheaper to develop a community in the central valley and induce some Silicon Valley company to hire people there? This doesn't seem to pencil out even for market rate housing! Let's attack the demand side and not approve any more office space until the housing market equilibrates


Activist Socialist
Registered user
Jackson Park
on Aug 25, 2021 at 10:27 pm
Activist Socialist, Jackson Park
Registered user
on Aug 25, 2021 at 10:27 pm

Excellent news. The solution to parking is to increase density and improve public transit. No one should have to drive to get downtown.


Randy Guelph
Registered user
Cuernavaca
on Aug 25, 2021 at 10:47 pm
Randy Guelph, Cuernavaca
Registered user
on Aug 25, 2021 at 10:47 pm

Seth, you have a wonderful opportunity to lead by example! Start that community in the Central Valley, and show everyone how great it is to live there! I'm definitely rooting for you.


Maria
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Aug 26, 2021 at 8:22 am
Maria, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Aug 26, 2021 at 8:22 am

This is great! I live right next to this and got the development proposal for the parking garage and thought it was a terrible idea. Bryant already has parking garages and they are loud, bad for the environment, and encourage driving. If we are low and parking we need to start charging for parking. Housing is much more important. My only complaint is the project should be bigger, it's a great location. Very easy to live car free.


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Aug 26, 2021 at 11:04 am
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Aug 26, 2021 at 11:04 am

no comment to this Council / 'cause I pretty much could tell which way the wind was blowing. We now have a Council that in-the-main is pro housing development By THEIR VOTE. In particular they are tending to much more "affordable" than previous Councils.

@Seth - yes it does seem to 'cost a lot'. I'd totally agree with you - Council now needs to VOTE NO on some, most, all? new office development. We have enought high-tech, high pay jobs. Update SQF to SQF redevelopment of office space - but no addition of office space. (IMO)


robstar
Registered user
Willowgate
on Aug 28, 2021 at 10:54 pm
robstar, Willowgate
Registered user
on Aug 28, 2021 at 10:54 pm
Scott Lamb
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Aug 30, 2021 at 10:33 am
Scott Lamb, Monta Loma
Registered user
on Aug 30, 2021 at 10:33 am

Seth, this is a local language thing. Here "affordable" means "subsidized". The concept known elsewhere as "affordable" doesn't exist here, so we have no word for it.


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