While not yet final, on Tuesday a majority of City Council members gave a thumbs-up to a four-story apartment project which aims to house most of the existing businesses at the corner of Castro Street and El Camino Real.
After a three-hour study session on Jan. 21, four of the council's seven members supported the project at 801 El Camino Real with 164 one- and two-bedroom apartments, suggesting changes only to the architecture of its roof-line recommended by city staff.
"I go to Peet's (coffee), I go to Rose (market), several times per week," said council member Ronit Bryant of two of the existing businesses that would have new spaces on the first floor of the development. "It's absolutely not acceptable to lose them. The businesses we love and want to keep will be in a new building. If this moves forward, they will be protected."
Residents were split over the project, with some noting that the project would alleviate the need for housing in the city, a lack of which is driving up rents. Others applauded the developer's efforts to retain the Rose Market, Sufi Coffee Shop (including a new patio), Le's Alterations, Tanya's Hair Design and Peet's Coffee (also with a new patio) in the design of the first floor of two of the three proposed buildings. However, the businesses may have to remain closed for two years during construction.
The project is an example of "a well-designed mixed-use development on El Camino Real as the council develops other parts of the corridor," said resident Lucas Ramirez. "I would love to see this paradigm implemented in other areas of Mountain View."
"I would rather patronize the businesses as this moves forward, than as they exist now," said resident Bruce Karney. "If I had to vote on this project as it stands I would give it an absolute thumbs-up."
Opponents in the neighborhood said it would add to traffic in the area, cause parking issues for the neighborhood and be too tall and dense to fit into with the single-story homes and two-story apartments next to the site. Opponents' chief complaints were about a perceived parking problem in the plans.
"The developer will be making a fortune while floating the parking costs onto the neighborhood," said neighbor Ed Faulk, echoing the belief that parking would overflow into the neighborhood. Residents on the other side of El Camino also complained that more customers would park as far away as Fairmont Drive.
Council members Jac Siegel and John McAlister sided with the neighborhood opposition in voting against the project, with McAlister saying the mass of the buildings as shown in a bird's eye view "scared the bejeezus out of me" and Siegel saying that such density is linked to traffic and parking issues.
Member Margaret Abe-Koga said after the Jan. 21 study session on the project that she would oppose it, as well.
Others disagreed that parking would be an issue. Developer Greystar's Dan Diebel contended that there would be more ample retail parking than currently exists. There are now 99 parking spaces serving 22,000 square feet, while the proposed project includes 60 spaces for 10,800 square feet of retail in the proposal. Some of the spaces are used by Avis rental car, which will go away, along with Rug Center and Gochi restaurant.
Residents and council members again debated the city's new residential model parking standard, which specifies that there must be one parking space per bedroom for such projects, based on a study of apartment complexes city-wide. City staff pointed to a parking study the city did for the new Madera complex, which found a significant number of parking spaces were unused, despite the new one-space-per-bedroom rule. Neighbors argued that more residents would use cars at 801 El Camino Real, because it is much farther from the downtown train station than Madera.
"Each of these parking spaces costs $40,000," said Bryant before opponents loudly booed her. "It's not like, 'Let's build more and more parking, it's a free ride.' It's not a free ride."
Council members and residents expressed concern about Gochi, whose owner said he had invested his life savings to fix up the space, not aware of the development plan. City staff said the spaces in the proposed development were full, and that Gochi was receiving help from the city in finding a new space.
"I'm just really disappointed this is not working out," said council member Margaret Abe-Koga of the restaurant's troubles. "Why aren't we asking for more retail space?"
A Rose Market employee also raised concerns, requesting that his employer be able to remain in business an extra year as the El Camino side of the project is built first.