The Mountain View City Council approved a request for bonus density from an office developer in North Bayshore, despite some hesitation that the project doesn't include any housing.
The council also supported updating the city’s guidelines around bonus density in North Bayshore to ensure that “each office project is providing the various kinds of infrastructure we need, including housing and affordable housing,” Mayor Alison Hicks said during the May 23 meeting.
When the North Bayshore Precise Plan was adopted in 2014, rather than allowing for unfettered office growth in the area, the city designed a competitive process where developers can request additional office square footage in exchange for providing more community benefits, like affordable housing.
In this way, office square footage has become the currency used between developers and the city to ensure that enough housing gets built in North Bayshore.
In 2017, council revised the North Bayshore Precise Plan, authorizing just over 2 million square feet of net new office space. Since then, the city has allocated the majority of that square footage to Google for its North Bayshore Master Plan. The revision also allowed up to 9,850 residential units in North Bayshore, and updated the guidelines to require that developers who take advantage of the bonus office density also provide housing units.
When the council issued a request for proposals last October, there was 250,000 square feet of remaining bonus office space to dole out in North Bayshore. The city received just one applicant: A developer who owns property at 1808 North Shoreline Blvd., a site that’s surrounded on all sides by Google-owned property.
Developer Jeff Morris requested about 87,000 net new office square feet for his project, a six-story office building with 4,000 square feet of ground-floor retail fronting North Shoreline Boulevard.
In order to qualify for the extra office density, projects within the North Bayshore Precise Plan are supposed to include residential units. In this case, the developer proposed to provide funding for affordable housing instead of constructed units. The project’s total proposed contribution – including both public benefits and required impact fees – was $7.2 million.
“Recent affordable housing projects have received approximately $125,000 per unit from the city,” the staff report states. “At this ratio, the project could facilitate the construction of approximately 57.6 affordable units.”
Despite the project not including housing, staff recommended that the council approve the developer’s request for bonus office space. The applicant’s monetary contribution “meets the spirit and intent of the guidelines, as the funding does facilitate the city to partner with affordable housing developers,” Senior Planner Ellen Yau said during the meeting.
Yau added that as the guidelines currently stand, there’s no clear, quantitative metric for how many units a project should provide to receive the bonus office square footage in the North Bayshore Precise Plan -- unlike the East Whisman Precise Plan, which does include an explicit jobs-housing linkage. For this reason, staff recommended that the council move to update the North Bayshore guidelines so the city can “provide more clarity regarding the process and requirements.”
Property owner Morris said that since his lot is just under 2 acres in size, he didn’t have room to integrate residential units into his project.
“The idea of partnering with the city through the contribution of funding to support your affordable housing needs makes sense for smaller properties like myself that do not have the ability to dedicate land or build housing on-site,” Morris told council members.
Council member Margaret Abe-Koga agreed with Morris, adding that the city needs funding for affordable housing more than it needs land right now, thanks to some recent land dedications from big developers like Google.
“For a long time we had funding and not land – now we’re getting more land, but we don’t have as much funding,” Abe-Koga said. “And so I think that it’s important for us to be flexible and to adjust accordingly to what we need at the time, and also recognizing that there is a difference in terms of sizes of projects, and what can be feasible based on size, or even just physically possible.”
But other council members said they were struggling to support the proposal given the city’s jobs-housing imbalance.
“Are we getting what we want out of this office space, which is literally the currency of North Bayshore?” questioned council member Emily Ann Ramos. “It doesn’t feel like we’re getting … the equal amount of housing for it.”
Mayor Hicks echoed these concerns, but also acknowledged that the current guidelines for projects requesting bonus office space in the North Bayshore Precise Plan are vague. She strongly supported amending the guidelines to ensure that office projects come with the infrastructure that North Bayshore needs, including affordable housing.
Kerry Williams, the developer's consultant, noted that at this stage the developer is just requesting the bonus office space, not an entitlement to build the project – meaning there’s still room for improvement before formally bringing the proposal to council.
“I think we’ve heard very clearly what the priorities are, and that’s really helpful for us,” Williams said. “We took that to heart, and we look forward to bringing back, if you authorize us tonight, a really exciting project that you’re going to be excited about.”
The council voted unanimously to support the bonus office space allocation. They also directed staff to update the guidelines so that future projects know exactly how much housing they’re expected to provide in exchange for extra office density.