A massive 240-unit apartment project planned for the Shoreline West neighborhood has become the latest flash point in Mountain View's challenging path to dramatically grow its housing stock.
The project by San Mateo-based developer Prometheus calls for a five-story apartment complex that some say would stand out like a sore thumb in a neighborhood consisting mainly of single-family homes.
Taller and denser than anything currently in the area, the new apartments proposed for 1696 Villa St. spurred an angry response from homeowners who would be living next to what they described as a towering monolith.
"I moved here to be in a single-family neighborhood, and now they're talking about increasing the density by 60 percent," said Mike McDowell, a nearby resident. "(Prometheus) hit the jackpot. They're able to do this, and we're the ones who suffer."
These complaints are nothing new. Every city across the Bay Area is dealing with similar conflicts as developers look to densify suburban neighborhoods built at a time when space seemed limitless. Prometheus representatives were upfront that their proposed housing is intended for Google employees, and would be priced accordingly.
Usually developers can soothe these tensions by offering some perks to the neighbors, such as paying for new parks, trails or playgrounds. Following this playbook, Prometheus representatives pledged to build a large park that could be deeded over to the city. However that offer didn't do much to assuage public resistance, since the proposed park would be about a half-mile away off Mariposa Avenue, close to El Camino Real. That public park would replace a parking lot at another Prometheus-owned apartment complex, where the developer plans to build a new underground garage.
The park would have to be built far away if city leaders are intent on getting as much housing as possible, said Jon Moss, Prometheus vice president. If they tried to add a park on the 3.3-acre Villa Street property, they would be able to build less than half the number of apartments, he said. Similarly, Moss warned they would also halve about 30 subsidized apartments promised with the project.
"Most of the parks are concentrated in the northern part of town, so this does seem to be a good part of town to provide a park," Moss said. "But if there's a simpler solution, we'd be in favor of that."
In that regard, the developer and city leaders were in agreement, at least in concept. As City Council members reviewed the project, it became clear that roughly half of them found the project too complicated and gigantic for the area. Echoing a sentiment shared by most of his colleagues, Councilman John McAlister suggested the project needed to be scaled down.
"We need affordable housing, but do we need it at the stake of building massive structures for a few more units?" said McAlister. "We need to slow down. We have a lot of growth in town and we need to take a step back."
Practically every council member expressed some qualms with the Villa Street project. Councilman Lenny Siegel said he was fine with the proposed building height, but he wanted more affordable housing since the project would require demolishing 19 "naturally affordable" homes. Councilwoman Pat Showalter urged Prometheus to take the extra steps for the new apartments to be converted to for-sale condominiums, so that more people could someday own homes. Councilwoman Lisa Matichak worried about parking, especially the optimistic assumption that most future households would need space for only one vehicle.
As the meeting was a study session, the council did not make a final decision. Council members took turns giving input on the various features of the proposed development, so that staff and the developer would tailor the project so that it could be approved.