Mountain View city officials will begin brainstorming ways to rework how they calculate park fees on new development, but it will require a difficult balance. While pretty much everyone wants to see more parkland for the community, the city's high fees are reportedly scaring away developers from building new housing.
At the Oct. 15 meeting, City Council members agreed they needed to bring several aspects of the park fees back to the drawing board. In a late-night study session, the council gave broad direction to city staff to analyze ways to give developers more flexibility to fulfill their park requirements.
The background of this discussion centered on North Bayshore, which is expected to begin a spree of housing construction in the coming years. But developers and a city-commissioned study found that as property values have skyrocketed, city development fees to fund parks and schools have also risen to new heights. Since 2016, park fees alone have reportedly raised the cost of building a single North Bayshore apartment by more than $30,000.
Those higher housing costs are reverberating throughout the rest of Mountain View, said John Hickey of SummerHill Homes. Other developers expressed similar concerns.
"Park fees have increased dramatically and now it's at the point where it's impeding housing," Hickey said. "We believe there's some opportunities to make the parkland ordinance more uniform so it doesn't discourage new development."
By the numbers, North Bayshore is the most parkland-rich region of the city. The neighborhood has more than 980 acres of open space, largely thanks to Shoreline Park and golf course.
This can make the city's parks data a little bit deceptive. On paper, the parks acreage in Mountain View actually looks pretty good, with more than 13.5 acres per 1,000 residents. The city stated goal is to have 3 acres per 1,000 residents.
But city parks officials point out that if they exclude the North Bayshore area, including Shoreline Park, then these numbers across the rest of the city plummet to 2.6 acres per 1,000 residents. For that reason, city officials believe many areas of the city are deficient in parks even though the city's ratio as a whole looks pretty good.
To design a better parks fee system, city officials decided they needed to revisit their categories for housing projects. Right now, the fees are calculated under a formula that depends on many factors, including the density, acreage and number of units. The council decided it may make sense to tweak that formula by adding in new density tiers that would account for large-scale housing developments of small apartments or studios.
The City Council also expressed interest in looking at the number of bedrooms, not housing units, as a new way to figure out park fees. Councilman Chris Clark expressed wariness about this idea, saying it was essentially telling developers to build studios because larger apartments would carry higher costs.
City leaders also discussed offering more incentives for housing developers to build private parks and recreation amenities. This would be similar to a special concession that the council granted to the Sobrato Organization for a 635-unit apartment complex to be built at 1255 Pear Ave. In that project, city officials agreed to give Sobrato an $8 million "open space credit" for building a private park as long as the developer made it accessible to the public.
In a similar idea, city staff proposed giving a smaller credit to housing developers that build private, residents-only parks and facilities. For example, a private swimming pool at a luxury compound would still benefit everyone because it would mean fewer people would be using the city's public pool, Community Services Director John Marchant said.
It was an idea that drew a mixed reaction. Some council members balked at the notion of encouraging a hodgepodge of private parks with different access rules. A better idea would be to have the city nudge developers to dedicate land for public use, said Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga.
"I don't want our city to become more gated communities and siloed off," she said. "I don't know how people will know what's private and what's open to the public."
Despite those reservations, the council agreed to allow city staff to study different options.
Across the board, the City Council favored putting higher fees for parks on office and commercial developers. City staff members said they will look into a new nexus study to investigate higher fees.