The Mountain View City Council unanimously approved a four-story office development on North Bernardo Avenue Tuesday, exchanging extra density for more funding to pay for the long-awaited Caltrain undercrossing on Bernardo Avenue.
“It’s an exciting opportunity to connect (North) Bernardo and Evelyn,” said City Council member Ellen Kamei, who chairs the Council Transportation Committee, at the May 23 meeting.
Located at 189 N. Bernardo Ave., the development includes a new four-story, 83,000-square-foot office building, a new six-story parking garage (four stories above grade and two levels below grade) and renovations to an existing two-story, 59,000-square-foot office building.
The project is located within the East Whisman Precise Plan, which would normally mean that it has to adhere to the jobs-housing linkage strategy, a city program created to balance office growth with new housing. The program requires that developers build a certain amount of housing for every 1,000 square feet of office space being developed.
However in this case, the project is exempt because it’s part of a transfer of development rights (TDR) program established before the East Whisman Precise Plan, and the jobs-housing linkage program, was finalized.
The TDR program is an agreement between the city and the Los Altos School District that allows developers to essentially purchase the rights to build a denser project. In this case, the project at 189 N. Bernardo Ave. can add up to 28,000 square feet of additional floor area in exchange for giving $3.6 million to the school district. City staff said the money will support the district plans to acquire and build a new school site in the San Antonio Precise Plan area.
The project will also add about 48,000 square feet of extra floor area allowed under the East Whisman Precise Plan’s bonus floor-area-ratio (FAR) program. In exchange for packing more office space onto the property, the developer will give $1.3 million in community benefits to the city to be used for the Bernardo Avenue undercrossing project – perceived as a win-win that the council was eager to support. Staff anticipate that the undercrossing will cost in the range of $40 million to $60 million for final design and construction.
Other community benefits include a privately owned, publicly accessible (POPA) open space, a multi-use path with bicycle facilities and a north-to-south pedestrian walkway.
“The project advances several guiding principles of the (East Whisman) precise plan, which relate to minimizing vehicle trips, building a complete streets network and creating a highly sustainable community,” said Brittany Whitehill, city assistant planner.
When the city’s Environmental Planning Commission discussed the project in March, commissioners weren’t thrilled by the number of trees that will be chopped down to make way for the project. In total, 111 trees will be removed, including 61 heritage trees.
The developer seeks to replace them by planting 220 new trees, including 46 coast live oaks and 36 valley oaks, throughout the site to make up for the losses. At full maturity, which will take about 15 years, the new tree canopy will provide more shade than the current one.
“I hate to see a loss of so many trees,” said resident Bruce England during public comment. “It’s great to see that it will be an increase in canopy, but it’s hard to take.”
Despite this drawback, council unanimously supported the project. Kamei, who made the motion, said she was especially encouraged by the community benefits attached to the project.
“This is part of the LASD transfer of development rights,” Kamei said. “I’m excited to be moving forward with that.”