Shenandoah military housing site eyed for school, affordable housing


Mountain View's city leaders are beginning to lay the groundwork for transforming 17 acres of federally owned land into a high school, a park and an affordable housing complex.

It's an idea that won favor at the Oct. 29 City Council meeting, though city staff cautioned it's going to be a long shot. Trying to cram all those priorities onto one site may not be feasible, since the U.S. Army wants to make as much money as possible from the sale of the land.

Shenandoah Square is pretty unusual property: It's a 17-acre island of unincorporated land in Mountain View at the corner of Moffett Boulevard and W. Middlefield Road, owned by the Army and used to house military and federal employees in 126 townhouses. The Army signaled it no longer needed the housing, and in 2015 began a process to sell the property.

Over the last year, Shenandoah has been particularly appealing to Mountain View's local school districts as a way to house thousands of students projected to come from new housing development in the city. In May, Mountain View Whisman Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph sent a letter to the Army stating that the land could be sold or leased to the district to build a new school, providing a major public benefit to the community. City staff began working with the district on a possible shared-use arrangement to place affordable housing at Shenandoah next door to school facilities.

Mountain View Whisman later backed off the idea due to the "projected price and availability" of the land, according to district officials. Around the same time, the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District subsequently announced it was considering the property for a possible school site, drawing up early architectural designs that place 12 acres of school facilities next to what would likely be open space.

High school district Superintendent Nellie Meyer said the district has "expressed interest" in developing Shenandoah along with several other large properties big enough to house a high school, but that's about it. The district has yet to talk directly to Army officials about a potential purchase agreement.

Costs are likely going to be a big problem for the high school district. The Army is looking to make a hefty profit off the sale of Shenandoah, which will go toward paying off debts incurred from other housing investments elsewhere in the state. Instead of following normal rules that give local agencies a chance to acquire surplus federal property for public uses at no cost, the Army received a special exemption and can go straight to a public sale of the property, according to a city staff report. In other words, any buyer is going to pay fair market value for the land.

Redevelopment plans from 2015 show just how much the Army's vision for the future of Shenandoah differs from the city's goals. The Army, through the company California Military Communities LLC, proposed transforming the 17-acre site into a high-density housing complex with 1,143 units, rezoning the property for buildings up to seven stories tall and annexing it into the city of Mountain View.

Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga said the Army's legislative bypass to get more money from Shenandoah is "concerning," particularly when the land has so much potential, in a prime location in Mountain View and ripe for public uses like affordable housing and schools. Housing is important, she said, but the property marks a big opportunity to make a statement with all-affordable housing units and public schools.

"There's a lot of potential," she said. "It's too valuable to just say go ahead and build 1,000 market-rate units on it."

Council members generally agreed they want to work with the high school district on turning Shenandoah into a community asset, but it's unclear how they plan to get there. Councilman Lucas Ramirez said it's going to take some "creative funding" strategies to cobble together enough money to satisfy the Army, particularly when the proposed uses -- affordable housing and schools -- aren't terribly profitable.

Councilman Chris Clark said if the city wants all of its priorities crammed onto the property, including open space, then they are going to need to allow a tall urban design.

"I would like to utilize this site to its maximum potential (and) have the school be as dense as possible," he said.

Mayor Lisa Matichak doubled down on the importance of park space separate from fields for use by the high school, adding that she made compromises on parks at the recently approved 777 W. Middlefield Road apartment complex -- located right across the street -- under the assumption that the federal land would eventually be developed with publicly available open space.

In addition to the competing priorities, the city also has to contend with federal lawmakers opposing the sale, arguing that the roughly 108 military and civilian families residing in the existing Shenandoah housing would be displaced and have nowhere to go. Finding an alternative use for the site that doesn't displace existing tenants would be a priority, according to a 2016 letter signed by 11 members of Congress including Senator Diane Feinstein and Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier.

City Manager Dan Rich cautioned that the council's vision for Shenandoah is going to be hard to accomplish, and may need to bank on things like the sale of development rights (TDRs) in order to help finance the purchase and construction costs.

"This is going to be extremely challenging to come up with anything that has a remote possibility of working," Rich said. "Neither the school district nor the city and the uses we're talking about are profitable."

Moving forward with the City Council's plan effectively ends the Army's original application for building 1,143 homes on the property, which has been dormant for a while and has not been refined for close to two years. Rich said the city failed to inform the Army of the Oct. 29 discussion.

"They've been sitting and doing nothing for two years, and there have been meetings with them, so I don't frankly lose sleep over that," he said. "But if we're gonna formally kill their proposal I feel like we have an obligation to at least let them know that."

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12 people like this
Posted by Ok
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Nov 8, 2019 at 11:45 am

“in a prime location in Mountain View and ripe for public uses like affordable housing”
Yes, affordable housing can only be built in prime location. LOL

16 people like this
Posted by Bored M
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Nov 8, 2019 at 1:08 pm

17 acres at market rate should be around $325M, right? And that's just for land without any development. That sounds like an AWFUL place to put affordable housing or a new school.

Even if you use eminent domain rights you'll still need to pay a market rate.

16 people like this
Posted by Mountain View Neighbor
a resident of North Whisman
on Nov 8, 2019 at 2:36 pm

Mountain View Neighbor is a registered user.

The city should take a lesson from San Francisco and make the entire thing into a park. Period.

We don’t need to create more housing in Moutnaon Virw for commuters to other cities.

8 people like this
Posted by Michael
a resident of Jackson Park
on Nov 8, 2019 at 7:42 pm

Great opportunity to build UP, maybe a five-story condo complex with two to three stories of underground parking. Close to 85 & 101, a perfect commute location within walking distance of Google and Microsoft/Linkedin. Of course, it would also make a great RV park for the homeless or just a park or even a another campus for Harker or Castilleja. Whatever is chosen, I am sure it will be opposed.

5 people like this
Posted by Vince
a resident of North Whisman
on Nov 9, 2019 at 11:50 am

How about we not displace military and government employees that have to work in and around moffet field. There are some government employees that are GS5 which is $30,000/yr. Even those that are GS7 they only earn about $50,000/yr.

That doesnt include the active duty families that are often living on a similar amount/single household income due to how often they have to move. Most military spouses are underemployed or unemployed even with experience/college degree. Most active duty personnel don't volunteer to be stationed here, and they shouldn't face a financial hardship due to the tour.

4 people like this
Posted by They play games, we play games
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2019 at 3:58 pm

Please cite your source for $19M/acre being the going rate in MTV ($325M/17acres).

Tell the army and any prospective developers that the land will not be rezoned.

4 people like this
Posted by That MV Guy
a resident of North Whisman
on Nov 10, 2019 at 5:14 pm

Park, school, more high density housing.....A long way from the military antenna farm that sat there in the 1960s when I was a child.

When you dream up your plans, just keep in mind that the Hetch-Hetchy aquaduct AND several high pressure gas lines (Google "San Bruno fire"...same gas line) run under the portion near the intersection of those two main streets.

That corner of the site currently has a large, unused parking lot formerly used by a temporary library while a new one was being built, so let some homeless people park their motor homes there, a site where local homeowners have nothing to complain about. That's forward thinking, sine you cannot build permanent structures on that part of the land anyway.

HELP the people who need help. Don't chase them out of town, as is being done today. Act like human beings, for God's sake.

2 people like this
Posted by Building Up
a resident of Jackson Park
on Nov 12, 2019 at 12:57 pm

How about building a 2-story high school on the bottom, with underground parking and 18 more stories with a mix of affordable units and market rate units up top, finished off with a rooftop park.

1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Nov 13, 2019 at 3:56 pm

Yes why not more high density in this neighborhood. If you look at the current approved units in our area, this is a very stupid idea. Let’s first see how the perfect storm (too much traffic) on Middlefield works out after everything is build. Most days Middlefield is way past capacity and the rest of our fair city wants to dump more on us. This area has very little services (grocery store etc).

6 people like this
Posted by Ok
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Nov 13, 2019 at 5:52 pm

Resident, 0K boomer

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