Mountain View revealed a new framework for the future of the city’s multifamily housing at a July 19 meeting, the first of six community input sessions that city staff is holding for each neighborhood in Mountain View.
The Tuesday Zoom meeting drew about 40 residents and focused on the Monta Loma/Farley/Rock neighborhood, though city staff provided new updates on what multifamily housing could look like across all of Mountain View.
For the past few years, the Mountain View City Council and city staff have sought ways to revamp the city's R3 zoning district. These are the parts of the city where apartments, condos, rowhouses and townhomes are allowed to be built, and it accounts for close to one-third of all homes in the city.
But current requirements in the zoning ordinance make it challenging for developers to build apartment and condo projects, which tend to be the most affordable types of R3 zoned housing. Because of these barriers, almost all new development in R3 zones has resulted in expensive rowhomes, said Eric Anderson, the city’s advance planning manager.
The city is looking to change that by making its R3 zoning ordinance less restrictive, while simultaneously working to curb displacement and increase the city’s stock of middle-income housing.
In 2020, city staff took a first whack at reimagining what R3 zoning could look like. Staff came up with a model that had four subdistricts, which would each allow varying building heights, from two to six stories, depending on where the development is located, and estimated that this framework could add up to 9,000 new homes.
“We developed a growth framework that essentially maximized development capacity,” Anderson said of the 2020 framework. “Council reviewed this in 2021 and directed staff to get more community input, which is why we’re doing this today," he said at the July 19 meeting.
The city is now presenting a new framework to the public, one that emphasizes "form-based" zoning principles.
“So rather than focusing on differences in height, we could alternatively focus on differences of scale and character,” Anderson said.
Kevin DeNardi, a Mountain View resident and developer, explained form-based zoning in simple terms: “This is how big your box can be,” and the number of units inside that box is up to the developer.
“For a perfect example, I just got 50 units approved in downtown Los Altos. In downtown Los Altos’ zoning, it is form-based,” DeNardi said in an interview. “There’s no allowable density on the site. It’s just, 'hey, you can only go up four stories, you have to have X amount of setback — how many units can you fit?'”
DeNardi said this approach removes barriers and makes the process more efficient for developers.
The city’s new form-based zoning model breaks R3 into three subdistricts (R3-A, R3-B and R3-C) that would each allow different scales of housing depending on where a site is located in the city: medium house scale (R3-A), large house scale (R3-B) or block scale (R3-C).
"House scale" refers to buildings that are the size of a house, typically ranging in footprint from as small as 25 feet wide to up to 80 feet. These individual, house-sized buildings can include multiple units, and are generally up to about two or three stories tall. "Block scale" refers to buildings that are individually as large as most or all of a block, or when arranged together along a street take up most or all of the block.
The city’s new framework also improves transitions in height and scale between buildings so that super tall, dense buildings don’t end up next to, say, a single-family home. Form-based standards can also lead to improved pedestrian connections and streetscapes, Anderson said.
“The new alternative map would focus development capacity increases in strategic locations, resulting in a smaller increase to overall development capacity in the R3 zone,” Anderson said. “In addition, R1 and R2 neighborhoods are only adjacent to R3-A and R3-B (on the new map). At the same time, we are targeting higher intensities (R3-C) to key destinations, like transit and services.”
The new map and form-based framework isn’t set in stone, he emphasized, and the city is seeking the community’s feedback before making any decisions.
“The goal for the project is to facilitate more middle-income units, more diversity of unit types and to update the standards which really reflect a development type or a series of development types that haven’t happened in a long time,” Anderson said.
But some residents still have concerns about which neighborhoods will be made to bear the brunt of growth.
Vivek Chopra, a Monta Loma resident, said during the meeting that his neighborhood has only one walkable public green space, Thaddeus Park, which is less than an acre in size.
“It’s supposed to be, what, three acres per 1,000 residents?” Chopra said of the city’s open space goals. “We’re not even approaching that. … There are areas of Mountain View which have a severe deficit of park space, and guess what? Those are the areas where you are putting R3 zoning and higher density.”
Meanwhile, Chopra said, “there are areas of Mountain View which have got like 2 acres per 1,000 residents, which are on the other side of the tracks. We’re on the wrong side of the tracks, clearly.”
As the city holds its next five R3 Zoning Update meetings, residents from every neighborhood in Mountain View will get a chance to voice their opinions on the city’s vision for future growth.
“There are a lot of different values that can enter into this discussion in terms of planning for infrastructure versus addressing a current need for housing,” Anderson said, “and we want to hear where the community lies on that spectrum.”
Here's the schedule for the upcoming Zoom meetings, which will each be held from 7 to 9 p.m.:
•Monday, July 25: Moffett/Whisman
•Tuesday, Aug. 2: San Antonio/Rengstorff/Del Medio
•Tuesday, Aug. 9: Central Neighborhoods
•Thursday, Aug. 11: Springer/Cuesta/Phyllis
•Tuesday, Aug. 16: Grant/Sylvan Park
Residents can click this link to join the meetings.