The city of Mountain View revealed a new framework for the future of the city’s multifamily housing, a process also known as the R3 Zoning Update, in a series of six community meetings divided by neighborhood and held virtually in July and August.
Areas with R3 zoning include parts of the city where apartments, condos, rowhouses and townhomes are allowed to be built, accounting 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. As a result, almost all new development has resulted in expensive row houses, said Eric Anderson, the city’s advance planning manager.
The city is looking to change that by shifting its R3 zoning ordinance toward a less restrictive, more "form-based" – focused on the size and shape of new development – while simultaneously working to curb displacement and increase the city’s stock of middle-income housing.
After initially airing a proposal in 2020 that maximized development capacity, the city’s new 2022 approach would focus development increases in strategic locations, such as near transit and services, resulting in smaller increases to overall housing growth in the R3 zones, Anderson said. Previous staff estimated found that the earlier approach could have resulted in up to 9,000 additional units.
Before the new approach is decided on, the city encouraged residents in each neighborhood to ask questions and give their input at its recent workshop series.
“I’d like to make it clear that this is not an all-or-nothing approach,” Anderson said. “Form-based principles, neighborhood commercial and open space can move forward with the 2020 map, and we can use parts of the 2020 framework and parts of the 2022 framework.”
Anyone who could not make it to their neighborhood's meeting or would like to weigh in can submit feedback through September at the city's online workshop portal, which can be accessed here.
Here’s what each neighborhood would look like under the city’s new framework, and what residents had to say about it.
Monta Loma/Farley/Rock neighborhoods
During a July 19 meeting for the Monta Loma/Farley/Rock neighborhoods, Anderson pointed out that the proposed R3-B zoned areas in the 2022 approach (which allow for higher density) are in the bottom southeast corner of the map, near the downtown transit center.
“As you can see, we focused most of the areas to be R3-A in this map, but areas that are closer to services and transit are slightly higher at R3-B,” Anderson said.
But some residents still had concerns about the new approach. Vivek Chopra, a Monta Loma resident, said during the meeting he’s worried his neighborhood would be made to bear the brunt of growth. He said Monta Loma has only one walkable public green space, Thaddeus Park, which is less than an acre in size.
“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,” Chopra said.
At a July 25 meeting for the Moffett/Whisman neighborhoods, Anderson pointed participants’ attention to the areas near Moffett Boulevard and downtown.
“You can see how (these areas) are R3-B zones, while the rest of the area is really limited to R3-A,” he said. “There’s the R3-B kind of along Whisman Road, that’s a particularly large site that can internalize more units and is also closer to the light rail line.”
Resident Hala Alshahwany raised concerns about the Moffett area not having a precise plan, which provides an area-wide vision for future growth, services and environmental impacts.
“The residents in the community there are very concerned about that because increasing density without accounting for infrastructure and community needs will be very difficult to do,” Alshahwany said.
Anderson responded that the council has directed staff to hold a study session about whether the city should pursue a precise plan for the Moffett Boulevard corridor. He said the study session will happen certainly within the next year, although it may not be before the end of 2022.
After splitting into breakout groups, resident Terrie Rayl said her group liked the 2022 approach better than the 2020 one.
“We feel like any new buildings should have a pretty substantial setback, so that it does give a more open feel for the buildings,” Rayl said. “... Any new development should really fit into the community. It should look like it is a part of the community. We want an urban forest.”
San Antonio/Rengstorff/Del Medio neighborhoods
During an Aug. 2 meeting for the San Antonio/Rengstorff/Del Medio neighborhoods, Anderson pointed out that the 2020 approach allowed for up to six stories along Del Medio Avenue, California Street and Latham Street. In the new 2022 version, three stories plus potential density bonuses are allowed in those areas.
“The block-scale buildings are focused around California, Latham, and Del Medio, as well as some areas closer to the San Antonio shopping center,” Anderson added. “Then other areas that are farther away from the San Antonio Shopping Center or are already developed with row houses and other smaller scale uses are in the lower density zones, the R3-A and R3-B zones.”
Resident Simeon Frank questioned how the city is going to make sure renters’ voices are heard in the outreach process, given the sizable number of renters who live in R3 zones. City staff said they intend to communicate with renter advocacy organizations active since the passage of the city's rent control law, the Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act (CSFRA).
“We’ll look at any potential areas where we haven’t heard from a lot of groups,” Anderson said. “Then we’ll go out and we have a bunch of mailing lists and contact lists for the CSFRA groups and the tenant groups and things like that, that we’ll continue to utilize to try to get input from any populations that we might have missed.”
“You can see that there’s more R3-B around downtown, as compared to the 2020 approach map, where there was more R3-A around downtown,” Anderson said at an Aug. 9 meeting held for the so-called central neighborhoods, which include Old Mountain View and Shoreline West.
“That’s focusing slightly higher density around transit and services. But that R3-C, the block-scale, is really only towards the edge of the map where there are fewer one- and two-story buildings, fewer lower density neighborhoods," he said.
Resident Mia Whitfield asked whether historic homes in the R3 zones would be affected by the city’s new approach.
“I’m a little concerned that what that recommendation means is that those might be torn down for not just R3-A but R3-B,” Whitfield said. “So I was wondering if there was going to be any thoughts of preservation of history.”
Anderson said the city is currently working to develop an updated historic ordinance and has webpage about the process that can be accessed here.
“The purpose of updating our historic ordinance is we’re going to develop a new register of historic resources and the register of historic resources is going to be a set of all buildings and properties that you actually can’t demolish without a very special process involving the California Environmental Quality Act and council discretion,” Anderson said. “People wouldn’t be able to come in and just demolish those units by right.”
At an Aug. 11 workshop for the Springer, Cuesta and Phyllis neighborhoods, Anderson first clarified that the map is mislabeled: it’s not Central Expressway along the top, but El Camino Real.
“You can see in the previous map that several of the larger sites along El Camino Real were designated for R3-C, four stories,” Anderson said. “None of this area was designated for R3-D in the previous map. But, in the new map, we have those areas designated as R3-B that are closest to El Camino Real and the areas that are farther from El Camino Real are R3-A, the lowest intensity.”
Resident Toni Rath asked Anderson to provide more details.
“How tall are we talking? How many stories are we talking?” Rath said. “What are the development standards, what are the heights of the buildings, what are the setbacks? Because without that, you can’t really start talking about whether that makes any sense or not.”
Anderson emphasized that at this stage in the process, the city is seeking broad, general input from the community.
“I think there may be a lot of opportunity (in the future) for input from the community about maybe what is too small a setback, or what do you want to make sure the setback can accommodate, or if you’re concerned about heights, what are those aspects of height that you’re concerned about, is it shadow, or privacy, or other issues?” Anderson said. “So we’re really looking for your ideas at this point before we get deep into the details of development standards and things like that.”
Grant/Sylvan Park neighborhoods
Anderson noted during the Aug. 16 meeting for Grant and Sylvan Park that most of this neighborhood -- particularly the area between Grant Road and Highway 85 -– is zoned for R1, which means only single family residences can be built there.
For those areas zoned R3, the previous framework placed R3-C districts around El Camino Real and Highway 237. The new approach “replaces that framework with densities of R3-B, which would be somewhat smaller than the previous R3-C proposal,” Anderson said. “Other areas closer to R1 neighborhoods (that) are farther away from transit, El Camino Real and services, would be R3-A, smaller-scale buildings.”
City Council candidate Li Zhang attended the Aug. 16 meeting and expressed concerns about the overall amount of growth the R3 zoning update process will bring. She asked Anderson if the city has a timeline for when new developments are expected to come online.
“It would be completely up to the property owners,” Anderson responded. “Once you adopt the zoning, then any property owner could come in and decide to build a project consistent with that zoning.”
Anderson said it’s hard to predict when property owners might decide to do that.
“Oftentimes our planning horizons are 20, 30 years,” he said. "And oftentimes when you do a planning horizon that long, things are changing the whole time. The world never turns out exactly how you expect it to.”