Google is pitching a new swath of dense apartments and offices in the East Whisman area, mirroring the tech giant's other big plans for Mountain View.
The proposal for 500 Logue Ave. represents Google's first foray into building apartments to house its growing workforce as a workaround to the area's huge traffic troubles. Given the intense demand to increase housing, the East Whisman project may also be a trial balloon for Google to test how much bonus office space it can win from city officials before the company submits its much-awaited plans for about 10,000 new homes near its North Bayshore headquarters.
The Logue Avenue proposal was submitted to the city in late October as a gatekeeper project, meaning it would need special exemptions from Mountain View officials in order to move forward. The project calls for using a 3.9-acre site at the end of the Logue Avenue cul-de-sac to build about 330 apartments and more than 203,000 square feet of office space. The proposal would also include space for retail and restaurants, and promises that at least 15 percent of the apartments would be set aside as affordable housing.
As part of the project, Google officials are asking for a bonus incentive equivalent to one extra square foot of office space for every three square feet of residences that are built, said Community Development Director Randy Tsuda. Winning extra office rights has been a crucial point for Google officials in discussions over the company's ambitions for expanding in North Bayshore. At an Environmental Planning Commission meeting earlier this year, company representatives initially requested a 1-to-1 ratio for bonus office square-footage in exchange for building housing, which drew sharp disapproval from the commissioners.
If accepted by the city, this new 3-to-1 ratio proposed for the Logue Avenue project could set a template for what the company would later pitch for North Bayshore, Tsuda said.
"We haven't evaluated these gatekeeper applications yet," Tsuda said. "If the council would support (this ratio) in East Whisman, Google would also request the same in North Bayshore, but I haven't heard specifically from them on this."
For either neighborhood, there are plenty of unknowns hanging in the balance. Through years of talks on building housing in North Bayshore, Mountain View City Council members have largely come out against the idea of letting Google build homes solely for its own workforce. City officials want new homes to be available to anyone, though it's unclear how they would require Google to comply with this.
"We're going to have to wrestle with the question," said Mayor Pat Showalter. "Google might want to get some percentage of the housing, but I'm not interested in all of it being workforce housing."
Mountain View officials are currently knee-deep in the process of revising the precise plans for both North Bayshore and East Whisman, leaving open the possibility that Google's preemptive proposals could wind up being too inconsistent with the city's vision. As a gatekeeper request, Google's Logue Avenue project would require the city to rezone the property and grant it a general-plan amendment.
In their submission to the city, Google officials emphasized how prospective residents at the Logue Avenue project could walk less than a quarter mile to access the VTA light rail station at Middlefield Road. But the VTA line doesn't connect to Google's main campus in North Bayshore, and any employees living in East Whisman would likely be reliant on the company's shuttles to commute, at least for now. Google officials are working with VTA to study a light-rail extension into North Bayshore, but there have been no updates on that effort since it was first announced last year.
Another big question is whether City Hall can even take on Google's latest request. The Logue Avenue project is one of 16 gatekeeper requests being pitched to the city, and planning officials are already warning that workload far exceeds what they can handle.
The same dilemma popped up last year when Mountain View officials received 20 gatekeeper proposals. Planning staff culled that list down to just eight projects, of which only four were approved by the council to move forward. Not much has changed since then, Tsuda warned. Mountain View still has multiple vacant planning positions, leaving the department reliant on contract help.
"Even if we were fully staffed, I don't think we'd be able accommodate these 16 gatekeeper requests," Tsuda said. "We would have to address these on top of all the other projects the council wants done and the many, many other development applications."
Google officials declined to answer the Voice's questions about the Logue Avenue project. The gatekeeper request is scheduled to go before the City Council at its Dec. 6 meeting.