Mountain View City Council gave the green light for the SummerHill Homes proposal in January last year, making it the first housing development project for the East Whisman region of the city, according to a city staff report. Council members are still hammering out the details of the East Whisman Precise Plan, a template for high-density housing in the region, but SummerHill is wasting no time entering the housing market.
The project is also significant because SummerHill proposes building beyond what's currently allowed through a Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs), making a deal with the Los Altos School District to essentially "buy" increased density from property in another part of the city.
In a Letter of Intent signed by SummerHill Homes last year, the developer agreed to purchase 10,000 square feet of additional density rights for its East Whisman area site on East Middlefield Road for $1.3 million.
The project proposed Tuesday night, April 17, was substantially different from what SummerHill showed council members in January. The developer originally proposed building 250 residential units on the 6-acre property, but then said it was infeasible due to the high cost of construction. Now SummerHill is proposing a 447-unit development of four- and seven-story buildings, with 265 apartments, 134 condominiums and 48 flats, boosting the density to about 75 units per acre. The current height limit in the area is six stories.
Katia Kamangar of SummerHill Homes framed the increased density as giving more relief to residents struggling with the regional housing shortage and the high cost of living by providing much-needed homes, particularly ownership units.
"Our proposal offers an opportunity for 447 new housing units within a quarter mile of transit, for rent and for sale," she said.
Council members Lisa Matichak and John McAlister both pointed out that the project is nearly twice the size as it was in January, almost making it an entirely new proposal, and raised concerns that the architecture is a massive, tall box without anything stepped-back.
Councilman Ken Rosenberg said he felt a little bit of pressure over the SummerHill proposal, which he described as potentially setting the tempo for the rest of the housing projects in the area. He said the East Whisman Precise Plan's vision, changing a light industrial region into a residential neighborhood, feels like a long-term conversion that could take decades, but high-density projects like the SummerHill housing proposal could accelerate that process.
"Here we are, before the Precise Plan is done, putting in more than we thought in a space," he said. "And this particular project may grease the skids for other projects to come down the road."
City Council members largely praised the mix of ownership and rental units, and showed an interest in trying to set aside some of the project's affordable housing units for middle-income households. Although the project could provide 15 percent of the apartments as low-income units — the minimum requirement set by the city — Kamangar said SummerHill Homes is willing to try different models. One of the options, for example, sets aside 20 percent of the apartments at a reduced rental rate for moderate-income families.
Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga said she wanted to find some way to earmark the moderate-income units for specific professionals, like teachers, who are part of the community but don't make enough to live in the area.
A conceptual site plan for the project shows that it would provide 614 parking spaces, which breaks down to about 1.37 spaces per unit. A significant number of units, 217 in total, are either two-bedrooms or larger.
School district reliant on TDR sales
SummerHill Homes is one of six projects going through the city's planning process that increases density through development rights purchased from the Los Altos School District.
Last year, district officials proposed buying land in the San Antonio area of Mountain View for a new school campus. In order to pay for it, City Council members agreed to allow the district to build a school well below the maximum density allowed on the property and sell the "excess" density rights to developers elsewhere in the city.
District officials are planning to sell off 610,000 square feet of development rights to developers — most of which will turn into higher-density office construction throughout Mountain View — to the tune of $79.3 million, which will go towards the purchase of land at the corner of San Antonio Road and California Street.
Whether the school district can secure the property, given that the current owners have publicly expressed opposition to any sale, is unknown. The school district may seek to take the property through eminent domain.
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