The City Council on Tuesday approved a 184-unit luxury apartment project for one of the city's busiest intersections, despite outcry from neighbors who fear increased numbers of cars parking on their streets.
Replacing a Santa Clara County-owned social services office and health clinic at 100 Moffett Boulevard and Central Expressway is another luxury apartment project by Prometheus Real Estate Group. Prometheus officials say it will be similar in its level of luxury to the Madera complex at 455 West Evelyn Ave., where occupancy is near 100 percent and rents are advertised between $3,502 and $8,000 - yes, $8,000 -- for one- and two-bedroom apartments. Like Madera, the complex will be built over an underground garage and range from two to four stories in height, with stoops facing the street and public walkways bisecting the site and its courtyards.
Council members voted 5-2 to approve the project, with members Jac Siegel and John McAlister opposed. Both expressed sympathy for neighbors' parking concerns. Other council members said the complex would be a benefit to the neighborhood.
In their complaints, neighbors noted that there were only 229 parking spaces in the project, one for each bedroom.
"There is no actual guest parking, all their guests will have to park on our streets," said resident Anne Mahood. "Thirty-four cars can fill up three of our six streets. Events at the Buddhist temple, the Adobe building and the IFES Hall all flood our streets."
Without adding more garage space, "Prometheus walks away with more profit. We are not asking Prometheus (to) solve our parking problems, we are asking they not make them worse."
While drivers may not have enough parking, pedestrians and cyclists may benefit from seeing Stierlin Road's Central Expressway on-ramp closed as part of the project. The former street section will be turned into a two-lane bike path and pedestrian promenade. Having made pedestrian and bicyclist mobility a top goal for the year, council members voted in June to close the on-ramp for the promenade -- despite some neighborhood opposition -- which bike and pedestrian advocates said would better connect downtown's train station to North Bayshore and Google headquarters via Stierlin Road and Shoreline Boulevard. A portion of Moffett Boulevard along the site will be widened to allow the city's first green-painted bike lane to be installed.
"To me, the well-maintained apartment project with the closing of the Stierlin on-ramp is a great thing for the neighborhood," said council member Bryant. "I know many of you disagree with me, but I'm expressing my opinion right now." She added that the project "will certainly raise all your property values."
Bryant said the closure of the on-ramp will prevent cars from "zooming up Stierlin to Central."
Several residents, including Linda Curtis, complained about the inclusion of stoops in the design, allowing front doors to open onto the street and encourage street parking. Resident Jarrett Mullen responded: "When you eliminate stoops it's like chopping off someone's front door, cutting off direct access to the sidewalk."
Mullen said the stoops provide access to downtown and help activate the street, making the building feel less "alienating."
Mullen said it was an opportunity for exemplary transit-oriented development. "It's across the street from our train station, it's across the street from our downtown. We don't have a more transit-oriented location than this."
City's parking standard debated
The project meets the city's new model parking standard, which calls for at least one parking space per bedroom and 15 percent of those made available to guests. Madera follows the same formula, and despite a similar outcry from neighbors, there have been no complaints about parking overflow at Madera, where only 75 percent of the garage is used, city officials said. Nevertheless, neighbors said they were convinced that the project's garage would be inadequate, as residents would have to cross a busy intersection to get to the downtown transit center, making it less likely that they would leave their cars at home than residents of Madera. The Madera project is right across the street from the transit center. "There's no comparison," one resident said.
Council member Siegel said the 229 parking spaces put the neighborhood "at risk so the developer could make a few more dollars."
"I believe we have a very flawed parking standard -- it doesn't look to the future at all," he said.
Council member Chris Clark said the the model parking standard is not that old, and was created "after extensive study of many, many developments."
"We have yet to see an instance in which the model parking standard isn't sufficient. If we have a significant issue of on-street parking, that's an issue the city needs to resolve through a permit program or whatever we need to do there," Clark said. Changes to the parking standards should be "based on data instead of fear and conjecture," he said.
Siegel said that there will be more cars in the future because "techies have discovered communal living. There will now be five or more in a two-bedroom."
"There's clearly a divergence of opinion," said council member Mike Kasperzak. "Statistics show Generation Y people are not getting cars like your generation did, or mine. I really think times are changing. It costs $10,000 a year to own a car. People in semi-urban environments, they don't want cars anymore."
"I think we are seeing a generational change," said council member Margaret Abe-Koga. "My kids' generation, they don't want to drive when they are 16. I think there really is a change happening."
Bryant said neighbors should get used to the increasing demand for parking, which may have gotten worse with the elimination of a Caltrain parking lot downtown. Abe-Koga said a Caltrain parking structure is in the works at VTA.
"If you look at Dana Street, where I live, and you try to find parking, good luck," Bryant said. "People parking on the street, it's just what people do, and I don't think we are going to change that."
She applauded Prometheus for charging a fee to residents who wanted more than one parking space per apartment, calling it "a great model."
Instead of making a $1.6 million payment to the city, Prometheus opted to build eight below market rate units in the project, which will rent to lower-income residents. Council members agreed to see if Prometheus was "compassionate enough," as Kasperzak said, to allow the city to pay Prometheus to build a ninth below market rate unit on the site. There will also be parking study done after the project is occupied to see if parking is adequate.
Prometheus must pay a $5.3 million fee towards city parks. The project includes the removal of 14 large heritage trees, including a large "tree of heaven" at one corner of the site, which will be replaced by a large oak tree.