News

Mountain View's planning commission backs big infill housing project despite health concerns

Avalon Bay's plans for 555 W. Middlefield Road would preserve existing apartments, add 323 new units

New homes proposed at 555 W. Middlefield Road alongside existing apartments. Courtesy city of Mountain View.

A major proposal to add hundreds of housing units to an existing apartment complex won support from Mountain View's Environmental Planning Commission Wednesday, despite reservations that existing tenants would have to live through years of heavy construction and air pollution.

The project at 555 W. Middlefield Road has been kicking around since 2015, evolving after a fairly poor reception early on. But the overall strategy has always been the same: Remove the surface parking lots and squeeze in hundreds of new homes in their place, without demolishing any existing homes in the process.

The latest iteration calls for adding 323 housing units -- bringing the total on the property to 726 -- across three new buildings, with underground garages to replace the lost surface parking spaces. Unlike past versions of the project, the proposal now includes 111 rental condos, with the potential for future conversion into for-sale units.

The developer, AvalonBay Communities, is also dedicating just over 1.3 acres in the center of the complex for use as a public park.

Critics of the project, many living next door on Cypress Point Drive, say the developer is trying to cram too many homes on the property and that the drawbacks are simply too steep. In order to build the extra units, the developer would have to cut down 57 heritage trees and remove trees that act as a buffer to Highway 85. Existing tenants at 555 Middlefield Road would have to live alongside construction for up to seven years, exposing them to elevated levels of particulate matter.

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"The science behind this is undisputed," said resident Daniel Shane. "Tree canopies along our highways and streets provide a buffer that mitigate noise levels and pollution levels and reduce cancer risks among residents who live in the neighborhood."

Even with these concerns, there's still a lot to like about the project, said commission member Hank Dempsey. It adds hundreds of homes to the city, including close to 50 affordable units, with infill development that doesn't displace any residents. On the balance, he said the project's benefits outweigh the problems and should move forward.

"The truth is I don't want the perfect to be the enemy of the good," Dempsey said.

Commissioner Joyce Yin acknowledged that the project has been locked up in the development process for several years, but that the extra time has paid off. Compared to the initial proposal, she said the project is "leaps and bounds" better now. The project's appearance has gone through numerous improvements, and the number of heritage trees slated for removal decreased from 117 to 57.

Still, she said AvalonBay shouldn't downplay or ignore the problems ahead, and should proactively work with tenants to disclose the environmental hazards caused by construction in the near term and potential long-term impacts of living close to Highway 85 with a limited tree buffer.

Construction will be split into phases, with a new city park first on the schedule. Courtesy city of Mountain View.

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"Transparency is paramount and you need to continue to have the conversations with the neighborhood, with those who are going to remain to find out, truly, what they are going to have to deal with," Yin said.

Residents and advocacy groups alike have raised concerns that the project, in axing trees near Highway 85, could disrupt an important riparian habitat along Stevens Creek. City officials say that does not appear to be the case, referring to a consultant study that found the strip of vegetation does not meet the definition of a "habitat movement corridor." In other words, the area of trees doesn't link habitats and currently forces wildlife to retrace its steps to return to the creek.

Commission Chair Bill Cranston said the developer's strategy of adding new units to an existing property -- rather than a full demolition and redevelopment -- is a positive one that retains rent-controlled apartments. He said the city should have a solid strategy for supporting residents who live right next door to lengthy construction, including clear expectations for what the developer should do to mitigate the noise and pollution impacts.

"This is going to be one of the first 'truly' infill development opportunities where we're trying to build in the middle of something and not disturb either side of it," Cranston said. "I'd much rather do this than plow down 402 units and start over."

The commission voted unanimously to recommend the project for approval. The Mountain View City Council is set to review the project for final approval next month.

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Mountain View's planning commission backs big infill housing project despite health concerns

Avalon Bay's plans for 555 W. Middlefield Road would preserve existing apartments, add 323 new units

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Thu, Jan 6, 2022, 12:08 pm

A major proposal to add hundreds of housing units to an existing apartment complex won support from Mountain View's Environmental Planning Commission Wednesday, despite reservations that existing tenants would have to live through years of heavy construction and air pollution.

The project at 555 W. Middlefield Road has been kicking around since 2015, evolving after a fairly poor reception early on. But the overall strategy has always been the same: Remove the surface parking lots and squeeze in hundreds of new homes in their place, without demolishing any existing homes in the process.

The latest iteration calls for adding 323 housing units -- bringing the total on the property to 726 -- across three new buildings, with underground garages to replace the lost surface parking spaces. Unlike past versions of the project, the proposal now includes 111 rental condos, with the potential for future conversion into for-sale units.

The developer, AvalonBay Communities, is also dedicating just over 1.3 acres in the center of the complex for use as a public park.

Critics of the project, many living next door on Cypress Point Drive, say the developer is trying to cram too many homes on the property and that the drawbacks are simply too steep. In order to build the extra units, the developer would have to cut down 57 heritage trees and remove trees that act as a buffer to Highway 85. Existing tenants at 555 Middlefield Road would have to live alongside construction for up to seven years, exposing them to elevated levels of particulate matter.

"The science behind this is undisputed," said resident Daniel Shane. "Tree canopies along our highways and streets provide a buffer that mitigate noise levels and pollution levels and reduce cancer risks among residents who live in the neighborhood."

Even with these concerns, there's still a lot to like about the project, said commission member Hank Dempsey. It adds hundreds of homes to the city, including close to 50 affordable units, with infill development that doesn't displace any residents. On the balance, he said the project's benefits outweigh the problems and should move forward.

"The truth is I don't want the perfect to be the enemy of the good," Dempsey said.

Commissioner Joyce Yin acknowledged that the project has been locked up in the development process for several years, but that the extra time has paid off. Compared to the initial proposal, she said the project is "leaps and bounds" better now. The project's appearance has gone through numerous improvements, and the number of heritage trees slated for removal decreased from 117 to 57.

Still, she said AvalonBay shouldn't downplay or ignore the problems ahead, and should proactively work with tenants to disclose the environmental hazards caused by construction in the near term and potential long-term impacts of living close to Highway 85 with a limited tree buffer.

"Transparency is paramount and you need to continue to have the conversations with the neighborhood, with those who are going to remain to find out, truly, what they are going to have to deal with," Yin said.

Residents and advocacy groups alike have raised concerns that the project, in axing trees near Highway 85, could disrupt an important riparian habitat along Stevens Creek. City officials say that does not appear to be the case, referring to a consultant study that found the strip of vegetation does not meet the definition of a "habitat movement corridor." In other words, the area of trees doesn't link habitats and currently forces wildlife to retrace its steps to return to the creek.

Commission Chair Bill Cranston said the developer's strategy of adding new units to an existing property -- rather than a full demolition and redevelopment -- is a positive one that retains rent-controlled apartments. He said the city should have a solid strategy for supporting residents who live right next door to lengthy construction, including clear expectations for what the developer should do to mitigate the noise and pollution impacts.

"This is going to be one of the first 'truly' infill development opportunities where we're trying to build in the middle of something and not disturb either side of it," Cranston said. "I'd much rather do this than plow down 402 units and start over."

The commission voted unanimously to recommend the project for approval. The Mountain View City Council is set to review the project for final approval next month.

Comments

Ed
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Jan 6, 2022 at 2:27 pm
Ed, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 2:27 pm

Kudos to the planning commission for moving the project forward. We desperately need new housing of all types, and surface parking lots are among the best places to put it.


ivg
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 6, 2022 at 7:55 pm
ivg, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 7:55 pm

Yes, thanks to all of the commissioners for the unanimous approval.

I want to address the issues brought up in this article. First, the long construction schedule results from the project phasing (it won't all be under construction at once), which was requested by the neighbors. Second, the connection with Stevens Creek is a complete red herring. The creek is on the opposite side of the highway! Finally, the heritage trees being removed are non-native, whereas the new landscaping will use mostly native plants. (Thanks to the developer for switching the landscape palette!)


bkengland
Registered user
Whisman Station
on Jan 6, 2022 at 8:06 pm
bkengland, Whisman Station
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 8:06 pm

I echo kudos to the EPC for approving this project. There are many reasons why this will benefit Mountain View, not the least of which is by providing sorely needed housing and helping to reduce commute-related vehicle miles travelled. For overall environmental sustainability benefits, it's essential to weigh all the pros and cons, which the commissioners did well, along with valuable input from community speakers.


SRB
Registered user
St. Francis Acres
on Jan 6, 2022 at 8:31 pm
SRB, St. Francis Acres
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2022 at 8:31 pm

Kudos also to the developer for working with city and community to improve the proposal. It's also not every day that 300 new housing units produce a new 1.3 acres public park.
I agree that the link with Stevens Creek was a bit of a red herring since SR85 separates the project from the trail.


Shane
Registered user
Willowgate
on Jan 7, 2022 at 9:17 am
Shane, Willowgate
Registered user
on Jan 7, 2022 at 9:17 am

I read your article on the important EPC meeting held on Wednesday, January 5, 2022. As you may know, the reason why this project has been in the planning stage since 2015 is because the developer, AvalonBay, has not been capable of providing an acceptable project plan to the EPC or City Council. Additionally, the developer had failed to address the major concerns of the residents and currently has refused to consider practical and economically feasible alternatives to their proposed design that would add more housing and preserve the urban forest and tree canopy. I believe you could be the first newspaper to bring public awareness to a significant local problem that has nationwide repercussions. Simply put, we have a decades long defective urban land use planning process. The process is inherently adversarial and it should be a cooperative process between the corporate developers, the residents, and the public officials. A solution is a paradigm shift in perception and the willingness to adopt adopt the concept of Biomorphic Urbanism. The premise is we have a defective land use planning process in the City of Mountain View and most cities across our great nation. My primary concern is that corporate developers nationwide have been surreptitiously taking over the urban land use planning process from the local public officials and ergo the people. The developers in Mountain View actually pay the EPC consultants to draft the EIRs. This is a direct conflict-of-interest. The proposed 555 W Middlefield High-Density Housing Development will clear cut an urban forest and wildlife habitat (120 trees, 62-Heritage trees) with a nexus to the Stevens Creek Trail Corridor. The tree canopy provides a protective barrier and significant health benefits between Highway 85 and our homes. The tree canopy absorbs noise and filters out toxic fumes and hazardous airborne particulates from car and truck tailgate exhaust, brake linings and tires.


Gayle
Registered user
Shoreline West
on Jan 7, 2022 at 10:23 am
Gayle, Shoreline West
Registered user
on Jan 7, 2022 at 10:23 am

This grove of heritage trees is definitely connected to Stevens Creek Trail, and not on the opposite side of 85. If you walk over the top of the burm you are on the trail!

I have walked this area, and there is no reason for the developer to clear cut these trees. They in no way impede construction. This is a purely aesthetic choice, which is a violation of the City's own agenda and Code of Ordinance:

Chapter 32 - Trees, Shrubs and Plants* - Article 1 - General
Sec. 32.35. - Criteria for removal; Conditions; Findings...
2. The necessity of the removal of the heritage tree in order to construct improvements...
5. Balancing criteria. In addition to the criteria referenced above which may support removal, the decision-maker shall also balance the request for removal against...
C. The effect of the requested removal with regard to shade, noise buffers, protection from wind damage and air pollution and the effect upon the historic value and scenic beauty and the health, safety, prosperity and general welfare of the area and the city as a whole.

Their removal is unnecessary.


Free Speech
Registered user
Martens-Carmelita
on Jan 7, 2022 at 10:45 am
Free Speech, Martens-Carmelita
Registered user
on Jan 7, 2022 at 10:45 am

A few days ago I received a postcard in the mail, from the City of Mountain View, concerning the water shortage. On the reverse side, the words "Save Our Trees - Trees and plants create wonderful benefits to our community. Keep mature trees and plants healthy by watering them as needed".
Is this current council hypocritical, ignorant or corrupt? Or a combination of all three? Developers run this city, that is clear.


Bernie Brightman
Registered user
Whisman Station
on Jan 7, 2022 at 1:57 pm
Bernie Brightman, Whisman Station
Registered user
on Jan 7, 2022 at 1:57 pm

"only 57 trees"?! What's the point of a heritage tree law if violations of this magnitude are sanctioned?

And why is nobody discussing the fact that we are now going to 4 stories in a residential part of town? There's an old story that if you want to cook a live frog you can do it by gradually raising the temperature little by little until it is cooked to death. In a like way 4 stories will lead to 5 and then 6 and then so on. But do we really want to be that frog?

How about 4 stories in the Cuesta Park area? When's that happening, hypocrites?

Another big problem that this is only going to exacerbate is that people in that complex routinely make a lefthand turn from the driveway onto Middlefield, GOING AGAINST TRAFFIC, to turn into the Valero gas station at the corner, traverse the station to reach Moffett and then go wherever. I turn the corner at Middlefield and am routinely confronted by WRONG WAY traffic! Add more residents and this is only going to get worse.

This whole corner and area should be re-studied, including the possibility of removing the Middlefield Road driveway, before this project is approved.

And by the way, this idea of what the builders "should do to be good citizens" isn't worth a bucket of warm piss. If it's not in writing with a penalty behind it, they'll do whatever they gd please.


Kristine
Registered user
Willowgate
on Jan 7, 2022 at 2:47 pm
Kristine, Willowgate
Registered user
on Jan 7, 2022 at 2:47 pm

My partner & I live at 555 W Middlefield Rd. And we attended the 1/5 EPC meeting and were very confused that the EPC did not seem to hear or address our concerns just as Avalon did not address them after we attended and voiced these concerns at multiple community meetings. Essentially, we want to live in a safe redwood tree filled community, and Avalon and the EPC are suggesting if we want to stay we have to face significant health risks and also have a huge number of heritage trees removed that currently help protect our air and noise quality, particularly from neighboring highway 85. 80-100 feet of heritage trees are currently giving us a great protective barrier from many highway toxins and air pollutants along with the tremendous noise this highway creates even though we live several buildings behind this tree canopy protective barrier. The health risks current residents would face are not small and we are troubled to find the city of Mountain View seems to not prioritize the health and safety of us as residents by potentially allowing this type of development while saying residents won’t be displaced but understanding for us to stay we have to endure major environmental health risks including the exposure to significant air pollutants along with noise that is not sustainable for even days in the very old buildings we live in that have thin unsealed windows. So to stay, we’d have to risk our health and ability to continue to work from home. This is not okay. I have lived in Mountain View several years both now and 16 years ago and it seems to me Mountain View is turning into a very different place because of pressure to develop. What I am seeing now is a Mountain View that sends post cards about preserving old growth trees but yet has officials voting to destroy them. This is confusing. Perhaps stop focusing on development as priority when you haven’t yet accounted for all of us who will be leaving due development that is not environmentally savvy enough?


ivg
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2022 at 6:25 pm
ivg, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 8, 2022 at 6:25 pm

People only care about trees they can see. Propose 323 homes on quarter-acre lots in the wildfire country of the Sierra foothills, and I guarantee you that you won't have 50 people calling into a Planning Commission hearing to stop the project.


I can't breathe pollution
Registered user
Shoreline West
on Jan 11, 2022 at 5:08 am
I can't breathe pollution, Shoreline West
Registered user
on Jan 11, 2022 at 5:08 am

According to the EPA, if you live within .3 miles of a "major roadway" (having a stop sign counts) then you are at risk for cancer, heart disease, and dementia. As my mother died from cancer living in this area, I am truly appalled at the priorities of the city

The World Health Organization reported that 18 percent of deaths worldwide are from airborne pollution.


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