Planning commission backs housing-heavy vision for Terra Bella

Traffic, density a big concern for nearby residents of light industrial area

For Mountain View's Environmental Planning Commission, the Terra Bella light industrial area represents a big opportunity for housing growth, but it comes with some serious challenges.

The area has been flagged as a prime spot for redevelopment by city officials and could go from having a paltry nine homes to becoming a dense, mixed-use neighborhood with as many as 2,600 housing units, not far from the city's largest jobs center north of Highway 101. Developers are already eager to break ground on the new vision for the area.

It won't be an easy change. The area -- roughly bounded by Highway 101, Highway 85, West Middlefield Road and Crittenden Middle School -- is already plagued with traffic problems, its few entry roads are packed during commute hours.

The area also borders single-family homes on two sides, and residents sharply object to becoming neighbors to three-story structures that they say will block the sun, kill outdoor gardens and invade their privacy.

Although the planning commission was deadlocked on several specific aspects of Terra Bella's future, commissioners generally agreed at the Wednesday, Feb. 20, meeting to stick with a dense residential approach estimated to bring between 4,200 and 5,500 new residents to the neighborhood. Commission member Kammy Lo was absent, leading to many 3-3 straw votes on tweaks to the plan.

"I think there's enough room in this process to make sure that we continue down a path that is respectful of the neighbor's concerns," said Commissioner Preeti Hehmeyer. "This is one of our few opportunities to put housing near jobs, to allow people to walk to work."

The Feb. 20 meeting marked the second chance for the Environmental Planning Commission to dig into the nuts and bolts of what's called the Terra Bella Visioning and Guiding Principles Plan, which is a sort of precursor to actual zoning changes. It sets an early framework for future developments that don't fit the area's largely industrial footprint, and could serve as a template for so-called gatekeeper projects that run contrary to the general plan.

That vision, which won support from the City Council last year, includes residential buildings up to five stories tall along West Middlefield Road, and up to seven stories tall along Terra Bella Avenue and parts of Linda Vista Avenue. Shoreline Boulevard between Terra Bella Avenue and West Middlefield Road would also transform into a dense mixed-use corridor with retail topped by either offices or residential units.

All told, the plan would convert about 33 acres to residential uses, most of which is currently used for offices, light industrial and church uses.

The proposal has been a source of consternation among residents living in the nearby Stierlin Estates and along Morgan Street, whose homes would be right up against what they describe as towering buildings that are way too dense for the area. Even a scaled-down version of the plan that nearly halved the number of housing units, which the planning commission ended up rejecting, was still way too much, said Albert Jeans, a Stierlin Estates resident.

"We still don't think the density is appropriate for this area, we think it's way too high," he said.

That's not to say that nearby residents oppose housing, said Rick Spillane, a resident on San Pablo Drive. He said his neighbors believe housing growth is a priority, but not at scale that deeply affects the quality of life of the people closest to the dense new development.

"We all want housing, we just want to make sure that it's planned out in reasonable ways so that Mountain View's character is maintained and that the housing that we have will be pleasant to live in," Spillane said.

Residents also noted that traffic access into the area, limited to Terra Bella Avenue, Middlefield Road, Linda Vista and Shoreline Boulevard, would be a huge problem if thousands of housing units and additional office space were constructed in the area. A comprehensive traffic study will not be part of the visioning process, leaving a void of hard data from which to argue about the traffic constraints.

What commission members could agree on was that the mixed use development along Shoreline Boulevard should favor housing, not offices, and a majority agreed to ratchet down residential building heights from five stories to three east of Linda Vista Avenue.

Although commission members agreed in concept to the idea of "transition zones" that lowered the heights of new buildings as they approach single-story homes, they were split on whether to set specific height limits. Commission member Robert Cox advocated for a two-story cap on any building that runs up against the existing residential neighborhoods, while commission member Margaret Capriles said she wanted to avoid being overly prescriptive on what transition zones should look like at such an early stage.

Another split was whether the taller and more dense vision for Terra Bella should preserve available office and light industrial uses in addition to new housing, or if it's time to strip away the area's long-standing role as a jobs center and turn Terra Bella into a residential neighborhood. Hehmeyer said it's important to stick with a balanced approach and integrated land uses, while Cox fervently opposed changes that would worsen the city's overall balance of jobs to housing.

"It brings me back to asking the question of do I believe in density for density's sake, and honestly I don't," Cox said. "If we were helping to improve the housing situation around here then I can be supportive, but I don't see it right now."

The City Council is scheduled to review the planning commission's input on March 5, and is expected to vote to approve the vision plan in the summer.

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13 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 23, 2019 at 1:18 pm

I think MV needs the housing. But any dense apartment growth needs to include sufficient parking, traffic mitigation and include some benefits to the local area.

Nobody wants their home affected negativity by huge construction projects that make life impossible for a few years during construction and then leave it overcrowded with traffic and zero parking where it was once a workable neighborhood. Build enough parking to alleviate the parking problem, or enough new access points to alleviate traffic jams, and share the new amenities with the neighbors.

Nanette: they are adding 100 new apartments over there.

Annette: that's going to ruin the neighborhood! Let's stop it!


Nanette: they are building 200 new apartments over there but when it's done we can all use the pool on weekends. The laundry room will use credit cards or quarters and be open for all of us and it will include secure parking spots so parking on this street will get easier.

Annette: Oh finally! When will it be open?

9 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2019 at 9:45 pm


I'm all for good city planning, parks, amenities, and so on, but not as appeasement so existing homeowners will be so generous as to allow more housing for the millennials.

9 people like this
Posted by Jeremy Hoffman
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Feb 25, 2019 at 9:39 am

Jeremy Hoffman is a registered user.

Adding housing near the thousands of jobs along Shoreline is just what the doctor ordered.

I agree with Robert Cox that the jobs-housing imbalance should guide the planning process.

I agree with Margaret Capriles that they shouldn't put a blanket 2 story cap on any homes at this stage. I mean, I grew up in a single-family neighborhood, and one of my neighbor's homes was three stories. Believe it or not, it did not affect my quality of life.

I just wish my city had legalized multi-family housing so we could have had some duplexes on those lots. Instead, my neighborhood got nothing but oversized single family homes because that was the only thing that was legal to build.

118 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Feb 25, 2019 at 10:37 am

This is not just building lots of units of housing, but also lots of office space. If you live in a one or two story home and your east, south, west or even northwest neighbor becomes a three to seven story building your quality of live is gone. There needs to be an environmental study for this area with looking at the shades these buildings spread over existing housing.
Let’s not even start about the traffic this would create. Spread the housing throughout Mountain View. I am sure there are areas in this city that would love to have these buildings next to them...

28 people like this
Posted by Planners? Yuk
a resident of Gemello
on Feb 25, 2019 at 12:41 pm

Most of the EPC and council members and city planners are clueless about development and what will work. They will impose their personal opinions about what they think will work and screw it up. Eventually developers, that have some actual skin in the game will bring some of them down to earth.

Personally, i think the area is underdeveloped. Rezone to housing and commercial and see what the market likes.

38 people like this
Posted by MV Renter
a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 25, 2019 at 1:40 pm

My only concern is traffic and parking. Shoreline is a freeway-connector, and therefore a shared resource. I can't pretend to have any inkling what's best for the neighborhood or the area; but I do know that a traffic problem to US-101 creates a problem for everyone.

I hope that whatever is done, the freeway ramps and feeders are improved.

Let us remember that Shoreline is one of only two overpasses over Central Expressway (and the Caltrain grade-crossing), therefore that road's importance to the flow of traffic cannot possibly be overstated.

If the whole area is to be redone, diverting a bike/pedestrian path separate from Shoreline Boulevard may also be a good idea. The Permanente Creek Trail is to the north of Shoreline, and connects to downtown via bike boulevards; in otherwords non-exclusive intersections which can snarl traffic).

An exclusive pedestrian/cyclist/scooter road to the south of it would not only be a good addition today, but for any future North Bayshore development.

Point is: more development means more cars (like it or not). So I'd like to see Shoreline made better for cars. At the same time, I'd like to see life better for pedestrians/cyclists and to promote cycling and walking as safe and healthy alternatives. The safest way is to separate the cars from them. It is far too easy to disrupt Shoreline's vehicular flow as it is, with the non-controlled crosswalks (which are hard to see in the dark); and will only be worsened with Waymo and autopilot cars. We need to get the pedestrians and bicycles away from them.

This may be a good chance to do that.

5 people like this
Posted by Greg
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Feb 25, 2019 at 3:17 pm

The city does not need the office space at all. We already have plenty. Same heights, but change it all to residential.

And, yes, I would see the horrible 5 story buildings by looking out my bedroom window. I think I’ll live.

7 people like this
Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Waverly Park
on Feb 25, 2019 at 4:51 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

"There goes the quality of life in the neighborhood!" But of course, you can say that about ANY neighborhood in Mountain View that is North of Central Expressway, and especially Middlefield Rd. Just more and more high rise urban ghetto 'hoods. And to think that 40 years ago MV was such a pleasant place to live. No more.

3 people like this
Posted by tommygee54
a resident of Rex Manor
on Feb 25, 2019 at 5:35 pm

I live on San Pierre Way. I have been here so long that I remember not only Spectra Physics just across Middlefield Road/San Pierre crosswalk but also that I could drive my car into the driveway of Spectra Physics and drive forward to the driveway leading onto Terra Bella. Of course not anymore. There are fences in the way. A question that I have is will the housing be facing Middlefield Road as well that will be built on Terra Bella? This crosswalk from San Pierre Way that crosses Middlefield Road needs yellow flashing lights all along the crosswalk. All there is now are just yellow signs. BUT the drivers in their cars do not stop. So we need some dramatic controls here to protect the pedestrians from the cars that do not stop.

Also I do hope that the light sequences now in force at Terra Bella at Shoreline are dramatically changed as now there are long waits for Shoreline traffic. In the past this intersection was a piece of cake in that hardly any cars would cross Shoreline from Terra Bella. Now I (and others) need to wait for the green arrow to turn red faster so that those of us wanting to drive over the bridge to the theaters or to the park do not have to wait for cars that are not there to turn left onto Terra Bella (towards the recycle center as an example). What happened to timed sensors that can tell if cars are waiting or turning left or right or whatever direction. Cars are sure waiting on Shoreline longer at this Terra Bella intersection now. After 49 years of driving in this area, I hate this intersection and this whole area due to the morning horrible traffic that is near a standstill.

I've had my say.

4 people like this
Posted by Craig
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Feb 25, 2019 at 7:56 pm

The Terra Bella Visoning Area is 204 acres of light industrial and limited industrial zoned land along Terra Bella Ave that most of us drive past on the way to 101. We all look at Taco Bell while waiting for the signal.
Change is coming to the area and the City is trying to decide the best course.
Mountain View is a center of innovation rooted in small businesses and there are some very interesting innovations developing in Terra Bella. There are about 1,200 people who work in the area, mostly in a number of small companies. It will be beneficial to preserve the light industrial/limited industrial areas to help our center of innovation.
Unfortunately, rents and homeownership are astronomically expensive and we need more residential development. New rental property will not make rents decrease. Many of us homeowners in Stierlin Estates Morgan St./Morgan Ct. neighborhoods would welcome new homeowners and we need more owner occupied residences.
We readers are decent people and decent neighbors and we expect the same of our neighbors. respectable transitions to residential neighborhoods is the right thing.
The difficult matter is how to decide the balance of residential vs. business development and what the 204 acres can sustain, both for the neighborhoods and for the city. A precise plan helps for Terra Bella will help to quantify the the outcome.
Many of us have engaged in the public discussion. It's time consuming and challenging. If you care about what the future will bring, join in the direct conversation and come to the City Council Study session next Tuesday. The train is leaving the station. Do you want to be on it or under it?

9 people like this
Posted by Randy Guelph
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Feb 25, 2019 at 9:09 pm

Craig, I'm curious why you're opposed to renters in your neighborhood. The implication that they're not "decent people" like yourself is worrying, but maybe you can clarify that.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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