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Residents rally against housing project that would cut down more than 100 trees

Proposed housing at 555 W. Middlefield Road would add more apartments to an existing complex. Courtesy city of Mountain View.

The city of Mountain View faces a tough balancing act between building more housing and preserving mature trees, with an upcoming project slated to add 323 new apartments at the cost of close to 130 trees.

The proposal at 555 W. Middlefield Road has been the subject of scrutiny for years, as the developer seeks to pack three new apartment buildings in an existing 402-unit complex.

The good news is that the construction won't displace the hundreds of current tenants. The bad news is that the buildings have to be constructed on the edges of the property and surface parking relocated underground, meaning a large portion of the 417 trees on the site must be chopped down.

The developer, Avalon Bay, originally proposed axing far more trees. An arborist report from 2016 recommended removing 182 trees in total, 117 of which qualified as heritage trees. Heritage trees include sequoias, cedars and oaks, along with any tree with a diameter of at least 15 inches. The plan has been refined since then, and the developer is now only seeking to remove 62 heritage trees.

The improvements have done little to assuage the concerns of nearby residents and environmental groups, both of whom came out in staunch opposition to the project. A joint letter by the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society and the local chapter of the Sierra Club urged the city to scale back the plans and remove one of the three proposed apartment buildings that would abut Highway 85.

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The building would require cutting down trees that serve as an important barrier between housing and the highway, the letter argues, and would destroy a part of the Stevens Creek habitat corridor extending from the ocean to the inland hills.

"The existing landscaping provides an effective aesthetic barrier to Hwy 85 visually and as a barrier for freeway noise," the groups said in the letter. "It also helps to trap airborne toxics, such as particulates from auto exhaust and tire dust, and brake linings dust from the highway."

At the city's Oct. 6 Development Review Committee meeting, several residents echoed similar concerns. Hala Alshahwany, who owns a condo on the nearby Cypress Point Drive, said the mature trees create a buffer between her neighborhood and the highway, and that those trees still remain on the chopping block despite all the changes to the plan over the last five years.

Part of the development, Block C, resides along Highway 85 and would require the removal of heritage trees. Courtesy city of Mountain View.

Cypress Point resident Daniel Shane, a vocal critic who called the proposal an "ill-conceived" plan that would worsen traffic and parking problems, also flagged the loss of trees as a reason to nix one of the proposed apartment buildings.

"Our main concern is the loss of many trees, some 135 trees including 62 heritage trees, that form a very important, significant extensive protective barrier between Highway 85 and our homes in our neighborhood," Shane said.

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Others took a more measured approach. Resident Toni Rath said the city should take steps to ensure that mature, contiguous tree canopy isn't replaced with token landscaping that just lines the outside of buildings. Bruce England, a member of GreenSpacesMV, said the city should carefully balance the needs of housing against tree preservation, and encourage developers to mitigate tree losses as much as possible.

"We still have concerns about balancing the need for habitat protection and the severe need for housing," England said. "Pay attention to both please, even though they both conflict with each other and it is difficult."

A 2018 analysis by the Voice found that the city had lost about 2,400 trees over the course of a three-year period, mostly due to new development, and that they have been replaced by a 60% increase in new trees and saplings.

The same will be true at 555 W. Middlefield Road. The developer is offering to plant 197 replacement trees on the property, which would exceed the existing tree canopy in 10 to 15 years, according to a city staff report.

Deputy Zoning Administrator Rebecca Shapiro said the project has come a long way from its original proposal to axe close to 120 heritage trees, and that the conflict between housing growth and tree preservation will fall to the city's Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) and the City Council.

"It will be critical and ultimately the responsibility of our EPC and the City Council to be the arbiters of that particular conflict," Shapiro said.

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Residents rally against housing project that would cut down more than 100 trees

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Thu, Oct 7, 2021, 1:37 pm

The city of Mountain View faces a tough balancing act between building more housing and preserving mature trees, with an upcoming project slated to add 323 new apartments at the cost of close to 130 trees.

The proposal at 555 W. Middlefield Road has been the subject of scrutiny for years, as the developer seeks to pack three new apartment buildings in an existing 402-unit complex.

The good news is that the construction won't displace the hundreds of current tenants. The bad news is that the buildings have to be constructed on the edges of the property and surface parking relocated underground, meaning a large portion of the 417 trees on the site must be chopped down.

The developer, Avalon Bay, originally proposed axing far more trees. An arborist report from 2016 recommended removing 182 trees in total, 117 of which qualified as heritage trees. Heritage trees include sequoias, cedars and oaks, along with any tree with a diameter of at least 15 inches. The plan has been refined since then, and the developer is now only seeking to remove 62 heritage trees.

The improvements have done little to assuage the concerns of nearby residents and environmental groups, both of whom came out in staunch opposition to the project. A joint letter by the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society and the local chapter of the Sierra Club urged the city to scale back the plans and remove one of the three proposed apartment buildings that would abut Highway 85.

The building would require cutting down trees that serve as an important barrier between housing and the highway, the letter argues, and would destroy a part of the Stevens Creek habitat corridor extending from the ocean to the inland hills.

"The existing landscaping provides an effective aesthetic barrier to Hwy 85 visually and as a barrier for freeway noise," the groups said in the letter. "It also helps to trap airborne toxics, such as particulates from auto exhaust and tire dust, and brake linings dust from the highway."

At the city's Oct. 6 Development Review Committee meeting, several residents echoed similar concerns. Hala Alshahwany, who owns a condo on the nearby Cypress Point Drive, said the mature trees create a buffer between her neighborhood and the highway, and that those trees still remain on the chopping block despite all the changes to the plan over the last five years.

Cypress Point resident Daniel Shane, a vocal critic who called the proposal an "ill-conceived" plan that would worsen traffic and parking problems, also flagged the loss of trees as a reason to nix one of the proposed apartment buildings.

"Our main concern is the loss of many trees, some 135 trees including 62 heritage trees, that form a very important, significant extensive protective barrier between Highway 85 and our homes in our neighborhood," Shane said.

Others took a more measured approach. Resident Toni Rath said the city should take steps to ensure that mature, contiguous tree canopy isn't replaced with token landscaping that just lines the outside of buildings. Bruce England, a member of GreenSpacesMV, said the city should carefully balance the needs of housing against tree preservation, and encourage developers to mitigate tree losses as much as possible.

"We still have concerns about balancing the need for habitat protection and the severe need for housing," England said. "Pay attention to both please, even though they both conflict with each other and it is difficult."

A 2018 analysis by the Voice found that the city had lost about 2,400 trees over the course of a three-year period, mostly due to new development, and that they have been replaced by a 60% increase in new trees and saplings.

The same will be true at 555 W. Middlefield Road. The developer is offering to plant 197 replacement trees on the property, which would exceed the existing tree canopy in 10 to 15 years, according to a city staff report.

Deputy Zoning Administrator Rebecca Shapiro said the project has come a long way from its original proposal to axe close to 120 heritage trees, and that the conflict between housing growth and tree preservation will fall to the city's Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) and the City Council.

"It will be critical and ultimately the responsibility of our EPC and the City Council to be the arbiters of that particular conflict," Shapiro said.

Comments

Free Speech
Registered user
Martens-Carmelita
on Oct 7, 2021 at 3:11 pm
Free Speech, Martens-Carmelita
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2021 at 3:11 pm

Mountain View city council has allowed big business to change the entire ambience of this city - steadily turning it from a pleasant, green environment to a "concrete jungle". There is this constant see-saw of "we need more jobs" to "we need more housing" as we lurch from one man-made "crisis" to another. All these "crises" are manufactured by big corporations as they seek to generate maximum profits by manipulating the situation-of-the-moment. What is the point of having the power to grant or deny planning permission if the council and its staff constantly roll over and give in to whatever Avalon et al. demand? How many trees have we lost in the past 10 years or so? Is there no concern about our contribution to climate change? Is climate always someone else's problem to solve? Environmental NIMBY-ism?


Randy Guelph
Registered user
Cuernavaca
on Oct 7, 2021 at 3:25 pm
Randy Guelph, Cuernavaca
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2021 at 3:25 pm

More homes so people can live closer to work does far more to address climate change than keeping an additional handful of trees on this lot.


Sean
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Oct 7, 2021 at 8:31 pm
Sean, Rex Manor
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2021 at 8:31 pm

We are in a drought, adding more homes and people will make it worse. Cutting down trees will make it worse. Trees actually cause more rain see Web Link any one on city council who allows cutting down so many trees is at best not well informed , I hate to think what other explanation there is. This is not in the best interest if Mountain View residents.


Hala
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Oct 8, 2021 at 8:39 am
Hala, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2021 at 8:39 am

The article neglected to mention an important message that the Sierra Club representative and many of MV residents who attended this meeting have expressed. Providing housing near transit is very desirable, however not at the expense of degrading the environment and sustainability of humans and natural habitats. Saving the 62 mature heritage trees that form a highly effective buffer from toxins and noise pollution can be achieved by scaling down (not eliminating) the proposed project. Balancing between our needs for housing and keeping healthy sustainable environment is what we should strive to reach. And in the face of climate change and extreme weather, we need to plan for this balance now so we can have a future.


Randy Guelph
Registered user
Cuernavaca
on Oct 8, 2021 at 8:47 am
Randy Guelph, Cuernavaca
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2021 at 8:47 am

It seems to me that they should make the project even bigger, rather than scaling it down. That would even further reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the people living in these buildings, doing far more to protect us from climate change than forcing those people to commute into Mountain View.


Mark
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Oct 9, 2021 at 5:52 am
Mark, Monta Loma
Registered user
on Oct 9, 2021 at 5:52 am

All the Mountain View City council really wants is to make Mountain View home to dozens of new
pro-Google voters. They don't care a fig for aesthetics, nor for a stable community. ("Heritage! Hah," they sneer.) Build, build, build, and let's make this a one company town, real soon!


SRB
Registered user
St. Francis Acres
on Oct 9, 2021 at 7:47 am
SRB, St. Francis Acres
Registered user
on Oct 9, 2021 at 7:47 am

Headline is a bit misleading. It's using the total number of trees projected to be removed vs. the 62 heritage trees -covered by tree ordinance- to be removed. It would be nice to also know how many of the 62 heritage trees are in poor condition ( likely to die within a few years, thinned foliage/canopy....).


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