News

More downtown retail space may be lost to office

In a meeting Wednesday evening, the city's Zoning Administrator is set to approve an office developer's request to use a downtown retail space for an employee break room instead of a cafe, shop or restaurant.

The move by developer Roger Burnell for his new building at 902 Villa Street has caused some concern among downtown residents, who say the 932-square-foot space should be home to a cafe, public meeting space, restaurant or shop.

"This is our vibrant downtown?" asked an email alerting downtown residents from resident Julie Lovins.

The space has been vacant since the building was leased by Facebook-owned WhatsApp. While city staff originally pushed for the retail space to be included in the project, they now recommend approval of Burnell's request to use the ground floor space as an employee break room.

"This small retail space will improve the pedestrian friendliness of the building," wrote a city staff member in a July 2012 City Council report for Burnell's project, which was controversial for years as it sought to replace a historic home on the site, and sought to tower above Chez TJ, the neighboring gourmet restaurant.

Called a "commercial/restaurant space," the report adds that "The applicant provided this area at staff's request." It also allowed Burnell to have an exemption from providing an additional 46 required parking spaces, according to city documents, which add that "parking in-lieu fees" must be paid if the space is not occupied by commercial, retail or restaurant use.

Increasing office development is slowly eating away at what's considered to be a key component of a vibrant downtown: ground floor retail space. Meyer Appliance was a fixture for years in a Castro Street building that was taken over by tech company Quixey. The former PayPal building at Bryant and Dana was originally slated to include ground floor retail space. A few blocks south a small Castro Street strip mall once home to a half dozen small businesses was allowed to be renovated for office space. And across the street from there a small gym near Starbucks was forced out to make way for higher office rents.

The meeting begins at 4 p.m. on June 25 in City Hall's second floor plaza conference room.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by incognito
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jun 23, 2014 at 2:34 pm

I give up.

Why don't we just all move away so that MV can become the Valley of Offices Delight.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by This is FaceBook
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 23, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Let's see if Facebook will get it's way here. Yes, that's right, the author neglected to mention who the tenant of this building is. Will the city let Facebook push around?

If google is any indication, bye bye public space.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Susan
a resident of Castro City
on Jun 23, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Retail garners sales tax for the city. Restaurants do too. Offices do not, unless someone clever figures out how to offset the loss of revenue. Tax revenue runs the City. Occupancy tax or some such to help maintain roads and the infrastructure of the City? Retail/restaurant on the ground floor is a good mix in Mountain View. Offices upstairs.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bored M
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 23, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Downtown MV can't use another bubble tea shop or pizza joint? O, I know, how about hamburgers and beer?

Clearly this change in zoning will just demolish the vibrant variety that downtown MV is building.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Max Hauser
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 23, 2014 at 2:53 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

Surprising that City planning staff's recent analysis failed to make more of an issue about this effort to reneg on a developer promise, which was part of the City Council's original acceptance of this project in January 2013. The Voice summed up the accepted proposal in 2013 as "A four-story office building . . . with a ground floor parking garage and cafe.'

This downtown has seen a FRENZY of new restaurant, tea shop, bakery, and similar tenants arriving since last year. It strains credibility that this new corner retail space (one block off Castro, diagonally opposite Steins Beer Garden) lacks potential tenants, but its owner also has control over that via the asking terms -- so an inherent owner responsibility is part of the current situation.

Regardless of "staff recommendations," the developer sold this project to the city as multi-use with public benefit, and the responsibility to come to the necessary terms to fulfill that pledge belongs to him. Since city staff failed to press this point, we residents will now have to do so.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jun 23, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Right now office use is hot, so hot that the converting retail space is happening. In time the office market will cool that the office space will be converted to retail. This office boom won't last forever.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by nikonbob
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 23, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Note to developers: Tell the city council whatever they want to hear in order to get approval. You can do whatever you please down the road.

Note to the council members who aren't already in the developers back pockets: You do realize you're being played, don't you?



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Not happy? Take constructive action
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 23, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Thank you MV Voice and Julie Lovins for bringing this to light!

If you would like to register an opinion about the decision to convert this cafe space into office space, you can make yourself heard at the public Zoning Hearing regarding 902 Villa on Wednesday 4pm in MV City Hall, Plaza Conference Room
Web Link

If you can't attend, you can email comments to

MV Zoning Adminstrator, Gerry Beaudin, gerry.beaudin@mountainview.gov
MV Assistant Director of Community Services, Terry Blount, terry.blount@mountainview.gov
MV Director of Community Services Randy Tsuda, Randy.tsuda@mountainview.gov





 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jes' Sayin'
a resident of Bailey Park
on Jun 23, 2014 at 11:32 pm

Here's a novel suggestion: why can't it be both?
Oracle's cafes are open to the public, for example.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2014 at 4:22 am

Sparty is a registered user.

Blue Line Pizza... scientology place turning into a bakery (eventually.......) Park Balluci, The mini burger place, Steins, and plenty of other restaurants like Scratch and Asian Box over the last 3 or 4 years.

Places that have been there forever like Kirin and Amicis.

Places that were Weinerschnitzel then a bunch of other things until someone may have gotten it right...

These aren't enough?

Sounds like people don't like offices... Meyers was a part of the vibrant downtown? How often do people buy ovens and refrigerators?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Need Active Streets
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 24, 2014 at 5:23 am

@Sparty

I like offices downtown, they should be on 2nd floor and above. On the ground floor of a our downtown district, they deaden our public space. Companies are going to be able to pay more rent than retailers for the foreseeable future. The only thing preserving the retail and restaurants which make downtown fun and interesting is for the City and citizens to make rules to protect them it. The landlord needs to lower the rent to find a retailer. I don't even see this as a community benefit since all downtown property owners benefit from a more active and vibrant downtown. Plus, this really does look like a bait and switch on the part of the developer!



 +   Like this comment
Posted by You tried, now move on
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 24, 2014 at 7:03 am

If the recent City Council does not seem to be representing your wishes about how Mt. View has been managed over the years, put a top to it. End all career politicians who seek to move from this position on the council, into another gov't group, so they can poison that as well.

Stop these MV career politicians NOW!
No more offices for these people!!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2014 at 1:17 pm

When the market cools down, companies decided to change offices around by laying off workers or using space better, then you see a return of the intended space. I don't see anything wrong with short term use as a office but ground floor should also be kept for retail/public serving offices or food service.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Was excited about a coffee shop or cafe
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 24, 2014 at 1:54 pm

I was told that would be a coffee shop or cafe. I would prefer that for the ground flow as that street is how I walk to and from downtown. Yes, I know there are other coffee shops close, but they do get crowded and would be nice to have a Starbucks, Peets or Philz on this side of downtown. Not sure how an employee break room is public benefit or creates a vibrant, walkable downtown....


 +   Like this comment
Posted by kathy
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jun 24, 2014 at 9:08 pm

Does anyone recall this story in 2012? The City favors big business time after time.... Web Link

Facing a huge rent increase, Custom Fitness has been forced from its longtime Castro Street location, and Mountain View city officials won't allow the owner to relocate elsewhere on the city's main street.

Owner Dale Dunlap said her landlord, apartment development and management giant Prometheus Real Estate Group, upped her rent to $12,000 from $5,500 for the 2,200-square-foot space at 650 Castro St., which sits below a large apartment complex.

Opening in 2004, the small gym staffed with personal trainers and masseurs had become "quite successful" and was growing in popularity among downtown start-up employees. On top of more than 70 regular clients, she provided service to a nearby Mozilla office with 120 employees. She said three other companies requested similar services recently, which she couldn't provide.

According to Dunlap, the tech start-up Sococo will be expanding into the space she has vacated. Custom Fitness closed its doors on June 30.

Sad commentary on the direction Mountain View is taking.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by What about the Parking?
a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 24, 2014 at 10:00 pm

What ever happened to the promise of underground parking? Downtown is so tight on parking already, and I can't imagine where the WhatsApp people will park.

I don't think we need another retail spot there. And there are other spots that still are empty - how about the space next to Posh Bagel and Bank of America, for example?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by incognito
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jun 25, 2014 at 12:40 am

@kathy,

Thanks for the link to the story about Custom Fitness. Yes history repeating itself! The planning department seems to be at odds with what Mountain View residents want.

Here's the whole article.

News - July 6, 2012

Landlord doubles rent, forces gym out of downtown
by Daniel DeBolt

It's like the dot-com boom all over again.

Facing a huge rent increase, Custom Fitness has been forced from its longtime Castro Street location, and Mountain View city officials won't allow the owner to relocate elsewhere on the city's main street.

Owner Dale Dunlap said her landlord, apartment development and management giant Prometheus Real Estate Group, upped her rent to $12,000 from $5,500 for the 2,200-square-foot space at 650 Castro St., which sits below a large apartment complex.

Opening in 2004, the small gym staffed with personal trainers and masseurs had become "quite successful" and was growing in popularity among downtown start-up employees. On top of more than 70 regular clients, she provided service to a nearby Mozilla office with 120 employees. She said three other companies requested similar services recently, which she couldn't provide.

According to Dunlap, the tech start-up Sococo will be expanding into the space she has vacated. Custom Fitness closed its doors on June 30.

"The landlords know they can get the highest rents from dot-coms," Dunlap said.

The demand for office space in downtown is at an all-time high, with vacancy rates approaching zero as tech start-ups lease every available space. But as a result, "personal service businesses like mine are being squeezed out," Dunlap said. "We tried for six months to find a new location in downtown Mountain View."

Dunlap said the business was her "baby," and the only one like it downtown. With 15 years of experience, she'd take on school teachers and the elderly, and "I would do a special rate," Dunlap said. "It ate into my profit and it was hard, but they need to be fit, too. Everybody needs to be fit." She would tell her clients that she was still a "volunteer mom" having raised three kids in Mountain View.

She found another location on Castro Street's 200 block, but the city planning department said a fitness center wouldn't be a good fit. She even had the help of a City Council member, Laura Macias, but no luck. "She was working real hard to try to get this to happen," Dunlap said.

The city wants retail or restaurants only on Castro Street, said her lawyer, Frank Flocks. "A service business doesn't have a chance," Flocks said. "It's a real shame."

Dunlap wonders why she wasn't told about restrictions on Castro Street when she first moved there. Officials encouraged her to look for space just off of Castro Street, but she could not find anything available, she said.

Flocks blamed the rent increase on the city's zoning, which is unusual in allowing office use on a first floor of some of the city's main downtown streets.

Dunlap said she is trying to keep the business together as one of her employees, personal trainer Daniel Green, takes over the business and applies for city permits to move the operation to Polaris Avenue, a 1.3-mile trip from the old location. Until then, she and Green will be working out of Shawsu, a similar business at Loyola Corners.

Like the Castro Street location, the Polaris Avenue location also requires a conditional use permit from the city's zoning administrator.

"It's not easy trying to get all these things done," Dunlap said of the city's permit process. "It is one slow process after another."

"We have to look forward," she said. The new location is larger, but customers from downtown "will now have to drive to us instead of walk, that's the bummer."

Updates on the effort to move the business can be found at custom-fitness.com.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Jun 25, 2014 at 12:50 am

Sparty is a registered user.

" The planning department seems to be at odds with what Mountain View residents want."

Really? You speak for the entire city?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sparty
a resident of another community
on Jun 25, 2014 at 12:52 am

Sparty is a registered user.

No one going to comment on how MORE restaurants than offices have come to castro st in the last few years?

Of course not. It's easier to complain and ignore facts.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by p
a resident of The Crossings
on Jun 25, 2014 at 8:47 am

Sparty, the fact is that the city government is constantly saying they want this area or that area to be more "walkable" (i.e. retail space, high density), yet they fold on that when the big companies show them a carrot.

How about they stick to a plan, any plan, without showing themselves to be willing to sell out the city to the highest bidder?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Dylan Carlson
a resident of Whisman Station
on Jun 25, 2014 at 9:45 am

I guess one definition of "walkable" is an empty sidewalk with former storefronts all company cafeterias. Maybe they want it to be more like Los Altos or something. I think if we're at a point where we're speculating what the city government's intentions are, that's probably not a good sign.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Need to update ordinances
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 25, 2014 at 10:01 am

I don't think it's fair to blame City Council for this. It sounds like the Downtown ordinance which was passed long ago allows for the conversion of retail to commercial
Space. The City Planners and Zoning Administrators should be pushing back on the conversions and assisting them in finding viable tenants. Also, if this is a chronic issue City Staff and citizens should push for a change to the ordinance to protect retail from converting to commercial. Yes, that may increase the commercial rents in MV if they have to subsidize the retail, but a tap on the breaks on commercial leases in MV is not so bad right now


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Linda Curtis
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 25, 2014 at 11:01 am

Once again it is a total bait & switch, with parking dropped for a price that does each of us no good. (It could be both a break room for their staff & a very nice cafe or restaurant for all of us, but the staff never requires what they approved in the first place! Propose whatever sounds great and then do whatever you want.)

Look at 801 El Camino Real: It is going to have 5 retail on the ground floor to be the "mixed use" with three buildings of four stories of apts. Sounds good? No! Because it is replacing what was 14 retail places and is being built nearly on to pof single story homes.

We do need to organize to get rid of politicians who allow stuff like all of this. The election this November can fix up our city council a lot. Vote for Lisa Matichak and Jim Neal, for city council for sure. That leaves one more candidate, which we must find. Helen Wolter will be perfect, if she runs.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by kathy
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jun 25, 2014 at 3:23 pm

I am completely fine with offices and housing on 2nd level and above, Fenwick and West building is a great example, set back with lots of outdoor dining on ground level (Cascal), one of the most popular destinations on Castro St.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MV Resident
a resident of Whisman Station
on Jun 25, 2014 at 3:38 pm

FYI- This proposed "break room" is actually code for "employee cafeteria". Food and beverage will be served to tech employees in this newly established privatized space.

This is a disturbing trend of further cannibalizing out restaurants and other uses that should be kept in the public realm. Google has set precedent for this, and others are now following path. Pretty soon I'll need to go to Sunnyvale to get a sandwich.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Stop the constructions
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 26, 2014 at 4:46 pm

How much more must we build? We have more than enough buildings built already. Mt. views infrastructure will not be able to handle all the new constructions.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by DC
a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 27, 2014 at 7:28 pm

Another con job. If you have retail you need parking for the customers. If it is the company rec room no extra space needed. The price to park in Mtn View has just gone up to much.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Realistic
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 30, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Unfortunately, most retailers do not want to be located so far off of Castro Street. They just would not have the foot traffic that they need to be successful over the long run. There is no question that ground floor office space should not be allowed on Castro Street. Save that for the retailers.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Kathy
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jul 1, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Clearly the taxpayers (aka constituents) do NOT want office space street level in downtown. Is anyone listening? Putting office space on street level is going to kill the downtown ambiance. On a side note, I wonder how Chez TJ's organic garden is doing now the sunshine is obliterated by the giant building next to it? It is a nice building but a smaller scale structure should be in that space. And as far as the break room goes, don't get me started. I always wanted to live in Old Mountain View, not so much anymore.


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Posted by Max Hauser
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 1, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

Heads up:

This article and comment thread are obsolete, a new article after the Zoning Hearing reported its outcome, quite different from the prediction above:

Web Link

(And Kathy, please note Chez TJ had made a deal with the new building's developer to relocate its herb garden to a suitable sunny patch, before construction began. It was reported in the Voice at the time.)


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Max Hauser
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 1, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

By the way, to "Realistic:" over a third of the downtown-area restaurants and cafes are on streets off Castro. Some of the most popular and famous are farther from Castro than the site in question.

The current issue anyway is not that retail businesses lack interest in the location, but rather that the developer has acknowledged soliciting only a tiny segment of the potential public-use tenants, much narrower than the charter agreed to with the City and residents. More detail in the newer thread I linked in previous post.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Kathy
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jul 1, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Max, thanks for the update glad Chez TJ is getting SOME benefit from its new neighbor, I hope the new tenant patronizes Chez TJ for special client dinners.

With that said, I think the building is too big for that space, makes me cringe every time I see it. I'll get over it in time I am sure.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Realistic
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 1, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Max, not really and certainly not a third. There are about 6 iconic spots like the Tied House, Chez TJ, Sushi Tomi and Yakko that are more than a block off of Castro Street, but I really can't think of anymore than that. Stein's, who is east of Bryant, is doing well, but they are still within a block of Castro even though they are kitty corner from the new space. Starting a new concept that far off of Castro is very difficult. Also, should the new space become a coffee shop, it would be unfortunate to take any business away from two excellent coffee shops we already have, Dana Street Roasting Company and Red Rock.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Amelia
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 1, 2014 at 6:08 pm

We don't need a coffee shop and I'm not sure why the developer is so focused on this as the only option. Many other types of food places could go in this spot.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Max Hauser
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 1, 2014 at 8:45 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

"Realistic," whoever you are: Please be aware that I keep an exact, current database of all restaurant properties in downtown MV. The information is used in the downtown-area neighborhood newsletter, and to brief local and visiting journalists, local businesses, and City personnel on request. I could even tell you about a couple of new restaurants coming soon, that virtually no one even downtown has heard about yet. What I quoted above came directly from the data and is accurate to the letter. The fraction I summarized as over one-third is actually 36%. You could have worked that out for yourself, were you willing to do the work, as I did.

Again, everyone please note that the news item here is obsolete, the newer one is Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2014 at 8:52 pm

When the office market cools, WhatsApp might decided to give up space because they might not need it. Retail or ground floor public serving business space might be needed. When I mean by public serving office space, Insurance Agent, Cooking School, Real Estate or someone who desire to lease space.


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