In a letter to the council, the Valley Transportation Authority called for a project almost with almost four times as many homes on the 4.3-acre site, saying its proximity to the downtown transit center made it an ideal location for dense housing. But no one on the City Council said they shared that concern Tuesday. Only Mayor Ronit Bryant, who lives a few blocks away, was critical.
Bryant said she considered a vote against the project because of its street design.
"Alleys, courtyards, roads going nowhere, really degrades the character" of the neighborhood, Bryant said. "I'm hoping little squiggly alleys to fit in as many units as possible is not the way we are going."
City staff noted numerous "compromises" in the design, but nevertheless recommended the project's approval because it meets the city's "fundamental goal" of building housing in the area. Compromises include narrow, 20-foot wide streets, shortened garages, small rooms and smaller-than-usual lot sizes at 1,600 square feet instead of 2,000. Every home will have two parking spaces except one on an odd lot, which will have a one-car garage and no driveway.
The developer said the compromises were all necessary to make the project marketable and financially feasible.
"I'd like to say we have some credibility in this neighborhood," said Scott Ward of Classic Communities. "I know we're not the easiest guys to work with." The two-story homes across the street from the train station were built by Classic Communities in the 1990s.
The development will have a new public street that runs north-south to connect Villa to Evelyn at the west end of the site. And while some of the new streets are private and dead end at walls, one will be designated for the public right of way and runs east-west to connect Calderon Avenue to the new public street.
As for open space, the project meets city requirements by including small yards and 7,300 square feet of common open space in the center of the site, which includes a children's play area, shade trees and patio seating.
On Tuesday few residents spoke about the project. Robert Cox, a board member of the Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association, supported it.
The project will be built next to the controversial 203-unit development replacing Minton's Lumber and Supply.
While Minton's isn't going to be much taller at two- to four-and-a-half-stories in height, Classics at Station 361 will be 15 units per acre compared to the 60 units per acre at Minton's, which has an underground parking garage and larger apartment buildings.
However, the VTA guidelines supported by all 15 cities in Santa Clara County call for 55-unit per-acre densities within one-third mile of a regional transit center to help to meet housing demand while encouraging transit use. Caltrain, light rail and bus service are located almost directly across the street from the site.
The VTA is asking the developer to provide residents with light rail and bus passes.
Ward explained that borrowing money for a higher density project would cause too much "credit exposure" in the current housing market, which is "just plain awful."
Classic Communities had originally submitted plans for a 96-unit project in 2006, but withdrew the project as the City Council considered a halt on all high-density projects, stressed "quality over quantity" and criticized the project's lack of open space.
To be demolished are two houses on Villa Street and 100,000 square feet of auto shops and other commercial buildings in Abate's Industrial Square. Several properties at the corner of Calderon and Evelyn will remain, including La Fiesta restaurant and two auto shops.
The city will receive $1.5 million in park fees and another $1.5 million in below market rate (BMR) housing fees towards affordable housing elsewhere in the city.
A year ago, John Mozart, the owner of Classic Communities, threatened to sue Mountain View, saying the city's requirement for BMR fees is illegal under a recent court decision. His suit against a similar fee in Palo Alto was thrown out of court and he never pursued the suit against Mountain View.
The city expects the average home in the project will sell for about $750,000, which increases the value of the property to $49 million from $18 million. Property taxes for the city could more than double to $78,000 a year, a city staff report said.
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