El Camino apartments win council approval | March 10, 2017 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - March 10, 2017

El Camino apartments win council approval

Council dismayed over meager affordable housing

by Mark Noack

While a 204-unit apartment project off El Camino Real won unanimous support from the Mountain View City Council last week, it became the latest disappointment in the city's push to expand affordable housing through private development.

The project, tucked between the 2200 blocks of El Camino Real and Latham Street, would have only 10 affordable apartments. The developer, Lennar Multifamily Communities, agreed to chip in an extra $2.1 million in housing-impact fees, but council members made it clear they were hoping for much more. In particular, they echoed the need for more subsidized units priced for middle-income households earning around $60,000 annually.

Like many of her colleagues, Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga had mixed feelings. She expressed support for the project even as she disparaged it as a "disappointment," and voiced her dismay that the developer wouldn't budge on its housing proposal.

"We're not achieving our (affordable housing) priorities, in my mind. I feel like we're going backwards," she said. "When we're talking about affordable housing, I think we should be looking at more like 15 percent (of a project)."

To be fair, the Lennar team was bringing forward its proposal amid a shifting landscape. Just one day earlier at a goal setting session, the Mountain View council had put new priority on increasing housing for middle-income households, in particular, for adding more for-sale condominiums rather than rental apartments. Council members agreed the city's previous push for subsidized housing had largely helped only low-income households earning less than $50,000 per year.

Under their new goal, council members urged Lennar representatives to add more housing for people earning closer to the median income, about $75,000 per year. These units would need a much smaller subsidy, so city officials figured the developer should be able to add more units.

But Lennar's vice president, Peter Schellinger, said his team couldn't modify its development to meet the council's new demands. City planning staff had previously suggested to his team that elected officials would look favorably on including low-income housing, he said. The project was now too far along to tweak, he said.

"Given where we are in the process, we're not capable of doing that," Schellinger said. "We're at our limit relative to the financial hurdles we have to achieve."

Council members did add some less-onerous requirements on the developer. Councilman Lenny Siegel made it a condition of approval that Lennar must notify all future residents that the site was contaminated with perchloroethylene from a dry cleaning business that had been at the site. Councilman John McAlister sought a similar condition making it so that transit Eco Passes be given out to all residents for five years instead of three.

The development was approved in a 7-0 vote at the Feb. 28 meeting.

Email Mark Noack at mnoack@mv-voice.com

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