Councilman Chris Clark abstained from the vote, only joining the rest of the council at the tail-end of the discussion, while councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga recused herself because her former employment at Synopsys presented a potential conflict of interest.
The proposal, put forth by Miramar Capital, would replace single-story offices with 412 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments. While the project would stick out like a sore thumb in the area today, the council is in the process of rezoning the East Whisman neighborhood to transform the city's office park into a dense office- and residential-oriented neighborhood. Once the region is fully built out, the dense Logue Avenue proposal would look more consistent with neighboring projects in the area.
Perry Hariri of Miramar Capital told council members that the project wouldn't look all that different from office development proposed by Symantec and LinkedIn along East Middlefield Road. Commercial projects allowed in the region, while having fewer stories, would end up being roughly the same height, he said.
The revised East Whisman Precise Plan, which is still evolving and incomplete, would allow dense residential development on the Miramar site up to eight stories tall. But the project's proposal tacks on additional density — and by extension height — through a deal with the Los Altos School District whereby Miramar Capital agreed to buy an additional 72,000 square feet of allowed development within the same 2.55-acre footprint through a process known as the Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs).
The net result is that one of the buildings would stand 11 stories tall, or about 128 feet, which is similar to the height of the Avalon Towers apartment complex at 2400 W. El Camino Real, according to city development director Randy Tsuda. The design isn't much shorter than the tallest building in the city, Mountain Bay Plaza in downtown Mountain View, which is 145 feet tall.
The project would be well below height limits set by Moffett Federal Airfield, which limits development to 182 feet above sea level.
Conceptual designs show that the 460,000-square-foot development with two buildings would have a partially underground parking structure at the ground-floor level. The project would also set aside 15 percent of the units as affordable housing for the city.
Hariri told council members that the design of the project isn't set in stone and could change, but shows roughly what it would take to fit nearly half a million square feet of housing on a fairly small space. He argued that going taller could actually make the site seem less like a dense box of development, freeing up more space elsewhere, and would be an ideal place for residents who could use nearby transit and travel short distances to employment hubs.
"If you're going to put higher density and taller buildings anywhere in Mountain View, I think this is one of the best places," he said.
But Matichak said she worried the council was getting ahead of itself by allowing projects to move forward using the East Whisman Precise Plan, which isn't even complete, as the template for zoning. She said nearby Whisman neighborhood residents are concerned they would bear the brunt of gridlocked traffic caused by dense projects in the area, and that there doesn't seem to be a firm plan to mitigate a massive increase in cars.
McAlister said he wanted the city to take a proactive approach and make sure traffic mitigation and open space policies are in place before authorizing projects to move forward. Otherwise, he said, the council runs the risk of turning East Middlefield Road into a major traffic jam.
The council's vote doesn't approve the project as is, but rather allows Miramar Capital to move forward with the city's planning process. The decision comes one month after the council green-lighted a similar high-density housing project on East Middlefield Road proposed by SummerHill Homes, which would bring a mix of 447 rental and ownership homes to what has historically been a tech park.
"I'm paranoid about the lack of infrastructure and transportation in everything we're doing," McAlister said. "We're not moving forward to alleviate the burden on our residents."
Mayor Lenny Siegel, who was joined by council members Pat Showalter and Ken Rosenberg voting in favor of the project, argued that building housing near employment centers like North Bayshore and East Whisman is an effective traffic mitigation measure. He said the city has tools at its disposal to encourage businesses to reward people who live near work and for residential developers to reward people who work near where they live — both moving toward the goal of getting people off the road during peak traffic hours.
"The presence of housing in our major employment centers is the best mitigation that we can do for traffic," Siegel said.
The Miramar project is one of seven so-called gatekeeper projects that will come before the city requesting a boost in density from TDRs from the Los Altos School District. Earlier this year, the district signed agreements with seven developers to sekk 610,000 square feet of development rights for close to $79.3 million. The Miramar and SummerHill projects are the only ones proposing to convert those development rights into residential projects, while the remainder would increase office development.
The TDR plan is contingent on the Los Altos School District purchasing 8.6 acres of land north of the San Antonio Shopping Center, which would allow district officials to sell off the unused development rights from the land to property owners elsewhere in the city. The whole process won't be finalized until the district actually has the right of possession for the land, according to Tsuda. If the district doesn't buy the land, none of the density bonuses being proposed will be allowed, he said.
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