A mixed-use plan that puts high-density affordable housing next to a compact Public Storage facility won the support of Mountain View's Environmental Planning Commission last week, despite some concerns about a lack of public parks in the industrial area of the city.
The proposal is a partnership between Public Storage and affordable housing developer Alta Housing, leading to an unusual joint project that puts a six-story residential building next door to two multistory personal storage buildings. Located on Terra Bella Avenue between San Rafael and Linda Vista avenues, the project would stand in stark contrast to the neighboring low-density industrial uses.
After getting the go-ahead to move through the planning process last year, the project has evolved over time. Alta Housing reconfigured the residential building design to decrease the height from seven stories to six while increasing the number of units from 105 to 108.
Public Storage is seeking a phased approach to construction, starting with a six-story storage building along Linda Vista Avenue. While the second phase calls for an additional four-story building tucked behind the affordable housing, commission member Chris Clark said Public Storage has indicated it would take much longer to build and may not happen at all.
Though the commission gave a warm reception to the project and quickly recommended support as it heads to the council next month, development in the city's Terra Bella area remains tricky. The area has no overarching plan for future redevelopment, and an attempt to adopt a so-called visioning plan fizzled in 2019.
The result is that property owners have ambitious plans for redevelopment in an area with no large-scale blueprint for density, traffic and neighborhood amenities, leading to case-by-case project analysis and approval.
Some of those concerned cropped up at the March 23 planning commission meeting. Resident Albert Jeans said he was concerned not only about parking -- Terra Bella is packed with RVs, many of them inhabited -- but also the lack of parks. If built, he said the affordable housing would be isolated in an aging industrial park and won't be close enough to grocery stores or well-served by the limited open space.
"I think it's up to the city to do something about that," Jeans said. "They really need to use some of these park in-lieu fees and seriously acquire some property and build us some parks."
It also means that the project, as proposed, is a total zoning mismatch for what's currently allowed on the 4.8-acre property. It's zoned as general industrial but would need to be revised to accommodate the high-density housing, and it only supports lower-density residential uses. Based on what Public Storage is requesting, the city would have to allow more than four times the allowed building density on the site.
The trade-off for building such a dense project is that Public Storage will be giving away about 0.5 acres of land for Alta Housing to build its affordable housing, and giving away the Terra Bella street frontage for the residential development.
Residents living in the proposed housing complex won't be without any open space. The project does include a plaza and areas with benches, along with a large third-story balcony that is close to a quarter of an acre in size, according to Randy Tsuda, Alta Housing's president and CEO.
Some speakers voiced support for the project despite the limited park space. Resident Edie Keating said families on the waiting list will make the choice for themselves whether they need a large park near where they live, and that many will be comfortable with what's available. She urged the commission not to let it get in the way of an otherwise good project.
"The biggest problem is our housing crisis and the lack of affordable housing," she said. "So here is a site where we can be adding affordable housing ... that will not impact any immediate neighbors directly."
While the visual design of the housing may be tweaked over time, commission members said they were fine with the look of the Public Storage buildings. Commission member Joyce Yin said it's a big improvement over the existing single-story facility, while commission Chair Bill Cranston said he wasn't all that concerned about impressing people driving down Highway 101 with the visual design of a personal storage development.
A majority of the commission signaled that they were wary of putting any additional requirements on the project that would jeopardize the financial feasibility of the affordable housing. Commission member Hank Dempsey said he wants to see the all-affordable housing project move forward, and that he would hate to see its viability challenged in any way.
"My hope would be that when we look at potential further design changes that we are being mindful of additional costs," Dempsey said. "It's easy to recommend stuff when you don't have to pay for it."