With concerns about parking and the jobs-housing imbalance top of mind, city staff want to put a temporary cap on office development in downtown Mountain View. While acknowledging concerns about unfettered office growth and ultimately supporting the recommendation, the Environmental Planning Commission added a few conditions to ensure projects already in the pipeline aren’t punished.
With a new state law coming into effect next year – AB 2097 – that limits a city’s ability to require developers to include on-site parking, city staff have concerns about how future office development will impact downtown.
“Such state-led bills prohibit the city’s ability to have minimum parking requirements or charge an in-lieu fee payment for sites near a major transit stop, such as the Mountain View Downtown Transit Center,” city Associate Planner Krisha Penollar said at the planning commission’s Nov. 2 meeting. “So if a large amount of office uses get built without parking, this may strain the public parking supply.”
In an attempt to buy some time to figure out downtown’s parking issues, city staff proposed a temporary Downtown Precise Plan amendment to limit office development to a 0.35 floor-area-ratio (FAR), whereas FARs previously ranged from 1.3 to 4.0 downtown. Higher FARs allow for larger developments, making lower FARs less attractive to developers because it limits how large they can build. If the FAR were limited to 0.35, it would effectively make new office development financially infeasible for developers, city staff said. The proposed cap would sunset on Dec. 31, 2024.
“This temporary office limit applies to new construction and additions associated with office development only,” Penollar said. “The limit does not apply to residential or other commercial uses such as retail or restaurants.”
Staff added that the proposed cap would not impact existing office buildings, and certain projects would be exempted from the cap, such as small additions for building upgrades, government-owned property, projects with a development agreement and currently entitled projects.
On top of the looming impact of AB 2097, community concerns about big office developments downtown also drove the proposal. Staff said they heard the community’s frustration loud and clear when the city council reluctantly approved 590 Castro Street – a 105,000-square-foot building with three stories of offices on top of ground-floor retail and restaurant uses – earlier this year. At the time, the community expressed resentment over another site downtown turning into offices instead of housing.
As office growth leads to more jobs, staff added, the existing jobs-housing imbalance will worsen.
After hearing the reasoning for the proposed development cap, commissioners asked about projects that are either already in the pipeline or close to submitting an application and how they’d be impacted.
“As of the date that this amendment was noticed, we didn’t have any projects under review that would be negatively impacted by this amendment,” said Advance Planning Manager Eric Anderson. However, he continued, “one group that was interested in building offices … (has) now submitted an application as of a couple of days ago for a new office development. They would be affected by this amendment, if it were not changed.”
The group Anderson referenced is Smith Development, a local developer with plans to build new offices at 705 W. Dana Street. Lund Smith, principal at Smith Development, said during public comment that unless the commission makes an exception, “We’ll have no choice but to leave the (existing) building abandoned and fenced off for the foreseeable future.”
John Frolli, an architect representing another downtown land owner, said during public comment that he and his client were just weeks away from submitting an application for an office development.
“Our problem is, this kind of broadsided us without knowing that it was coming up,” Frolli said. “ … So we feel as though, until this is actually approved by city council, that we should have the opportunity to get our application in.”
Other public commenters strongly supported the staff recommendations for a temporary office development cap. Robert Cox, speaking on behalf of Livable Mountain View, said that 590 Castro’s approval set a bad precedent for the future of downtown.
“We furthermore recommend that when the Downtown Precise Plan does come back to the EPC (Environmental Planning Commission), that the EPC considers to incorporate a jobs housing policy linkage, similar to that which is adopted by the East Whisman Precise Plan,” Cox said. “Mountain View needs to get its jobs housing imbalance under control.”
The city council has plans to review and consider amendments to the Downtown Precise Plan, which hasn’t been touched for decades. Given the public outcry over the approval of 590 Castro Street, EPC Chair William Cranston acknowledged that it’s high time the Downtown Precise Plan is reviewed so the city can establish a vision for the future of downtown.
“At the same time, I’m a very big believer in, if somebody follows the rules, then dammit, they should be able to do that,” Cranston continued. “This idea of changing something here at the last minute without a path to completion really bothers me,” he said of the proposed office development cap.
If the cap was considered in conjunction with the precise plan update, Cranston said, the idea would make more sense to him. But as a standalone amendment, “it feels unfair to the land owners that have been playing by the rules,” he said.
Commissioner Chris Clark shared Cranston’s concerns, and proposed a compromise: he moved that the EPC recommend the temporary cap on office development to the city council, but also include a suggestion that the council prioritize the Downtown Precise Plan Update process alongside their consideration of a temporary office development cap. His motion also suggested that the council set a cutoff date to allow developers to submit applications for their projects before the cap goes into effect, as well as recommended that the council include some additional leniency for projects that aren’t proposing major new construction.
The commission approved Clark’s motion unanimously. The city council will take up the issue at its Dec. 6 meeting, staff said.
on Nov 9, 2022 at 10:05 am
on Nov 9, 2022 at 10:05 am
I was very excited to read this news this morning, but as I continued to read, I began to wonder if it is merely an empty symbolic gesture. The bit about commissioners adding "a few conditions to ensure projects already in the pipeline aren’t punished" sounds reasonable, but it depends on the cutoff date (which should be ASAP or even sooner, IMHO). If everyone who was considering development in the next few years now rushes to get an application in, how much office construction will actually be prevented?
This part sounds GREAT:
"Commissioner Chris Clark shared Cranston’s concerns, and proposed a compromise: he moved that the EPC recommend the temporary cap on office development to the city council, but also include a suggestion that the council prioritize the Downtown Precise Plan Update process alongside their consideration of a temporary office development cap."
CLEARLY, CLEARLY, CLEARLY the Downtown Precise Plan needs to be updated.
This is the part that concerns me:
""His motion also suggested that the council set a cutoff date to allow developers to submit applications for their projects before the cap goes into effect ... "
The EPC is giving developers one last chance to get their proposals in for new projects like the one that is hated so much at 590 Castro. Why? In order to be "fair" to developers. And this is a temporary cap that only lasts two years anyway. If the jobs/housing imbalance is truly a crisis, shouldn't it be treated as a crisis? Why give developers one last chance to make the problems even worse?
Seems to me that this "temporary" measure might have the opposite effect than what is intended, it might ENCOURAGE developers to submit their proposals for office construction before the door closes. Lovely.
Also, sad to learn about the a new state law – AB 2097 – that limits a city’s ability to require developers to include on-site parking. I've lived in places where parking was extremely limited, it's not fun at all. Developers must be thrilled.