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Proposed office project in Mountain View's San Antonio center met with criticism

A proposed seven-story office building at the corner of California Street and San Antonio Road. Rendering courtesy city of Mountain View

A proposed seven-story office building on the site of the former Milk Pail Market in Mountain View could soon cap off a yearslong efforts to redevelop the San Antonio shopping center. But it's hard to find any fans of the finale.

Developer Merlone Geier is seeking to build the offices at the corner of California Street and San Antonio Road, squarely in the middle of some of the city's newest and most dense projects to date. In what is now being dubbed "Phase III" of Merlone Geier's redevelopment of the shopping center, the 182,000-square-foot project would be crammed into the small 1-acre property, demolishing the now-shuttered Milk Pail Market.

Merlone Geier has been redeveloping the western half of the San Antonio shopping center for the better part of a decade, but only recently acquired the corner property. The office project is likely the final chapter in the company's development plans, as the eastern half is owned by the Los Altos School District and Federal Realty.

The proposal got a cold reception at the Dec. 1 City Council meeting, however, with council members criticizing the design and questioning the value of a stark, box-shaped office building at a corner that was meant to be a pedestrian-friendly gateway to the retail hub. Others insisted the spot should be for housing, or at the very least something smaller, and wondered whether the project is beyond fixing.

"If we can salvage this, that's fine, but I will be honest and say this is not at all what I was looking for here," said Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga. "I almost feel like we should start from step one again."

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Council members reluctantly allowed the project to proceed through the city's planning process at the meeting, which was a study session and did not include a formal vote.

The proposed office building has a storied history and is unusual in many ways. The outsized project, which would stand at 111 feet tall, is able to pack so much office space onto the small property through a complex deal with the Los Altos School District, whereby Merlone Geier agreed to purchase bonus density for the project in exchange for nearly $20 million.

Last year, the school district bought just over 11.6 acres of land east of Merlone Geier's proposal for a new school. In order to defray the eye-popping $155 million cost of acquisition, the school district is purposefully underdeveloping the property and "selling" to developers the remaining density -- roughly at a rate of $130 per square foot. Merlone Geier bought 150,000 square feet from the school district, and intends to use it all on the corner property.

Though council members have previously been willing to stomach projects using the transfer of development rights (TDRs) in order to help pay for a new school, Merlone Geier's proposal has been less successful. An earlier iteration of the project, which stood eight stories tall, was rejected by the council last year, forcing the developer to go back to the drawing board.

The Milk Pail Market, which closed in summer 2019, still stands at the corner of San Antonio Road and California Street. Photo by Magali Gauthier

The project includes 15,000 square feet of ground-floor retail under 167,000 square feet of offices, along with four levels of underground parking, and asks for several exceptions from the city's development rules for San Antonio. It breaks the area's setback rules and is pressed up right against the sidewalk, is too tall and is too close to the adjacent office buildings from Merlone Geier's Phase II projects. What's more, the city would have to abandon its previous cap on office space on the northwest portion of the San Antonio shopping center, which previously only allowed 400,000 square feet of offices.

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The northwest corner is only allowed to have an additional 39,000 square feet of offices, requiring an amendment to the city's San Antonio Precise Plan.

Resident Albert Jeans said the proposal amounts to "just one more monolithic block building" that has come to define Merlone Geier's development at San Antonio over the years, and that the series of rectangular box buildings create a sort of concrete canyon effect.

"I'm just sorry to see San Antonio center turn out the way it did," he said.

Councilwoman Lisa Matichak said she was disappointed that the project was an office building, and that she would have preferred housing. Removing the cap on office space at the corner also runs contrary to the city's plan to spread out office space and achieve an even mix of office, residential and retail development, she said.

Matichak said she also worried the council was poised to repeat past mistakes and allow the project, with narrow sidewalks and packed buildings, to be anything but pedestrian friendly.

"I think we learned a lot of lessons from Phase I, and when you know better, you do better," Matichak said. "Let's do better, let's not repeat the mistakes that were made in Phase I, and one of the mistakes is having the buildings too close together."

Councilwoman Alison Hicks said the corner property should be a "signature building" and a key location that defines the area, and that it will be the most prominent thing people see coming down San Antonio Road. She said the building needs to be rounded out and softened, and could use some kind of pedestrian-friendly designs like arcades. She said she would support moving some of the TDRs off the property if it meant improvements to the project.

Council members agreed at the study session to let Merlone Geier further refine the project's design and take into account some of their concerns, and agreed to allow a parking reduction for the site. Merlone Geier is planning to link the proposed underground parking to the much-larger Phase II office project, which has a massive 2,586 parking spaces and makes up for the shortcomings of the proposed project.

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Proposed office project in Mountain View's San Antonio center met with criticism

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Fri, Dec 4, 2020, 1:50 pm

A proposed seven-story office building on the site of the former Milk Pail Market in Mountain View could soon cap off a yearslong efforts to redevelop the San Antonio shopping center. But it's hard to find any fans of the finale.

Developer Merlone Geier is seeking to build the offices at the corner of California Street and San Antonio Road, squarely in the middle of some of the city's newest and most dense projects to date. In what is now being dubbed "Phase III" of Merlone Geier's redevelopment of the shopping center, the 182,000-square-foot project would be crammed into the small 1-acre property, demolishing the now-shuttered Milk Pail Market.

Merlone Geier has been redeveloping the western half of the San Antonio shopping center for the better part of a decade, but only recently acquired the corner property. The office project is likely the final chapter in the company's development plans, as the eastern half is owned by the Los Altos School District and Federal Realty.

The proposal got a cold reception at the Dec. 1 City Council meeting, however, with council members criticizing the design and questioning the value of a stark, box-shaped office building at a corner that was meant to be a pedestrian-friendly gateway to the retail hub. Others insisted the spot should be for housing, or at the very least something smaller, and wondered whether the project is beyond fixing.

"If we can salvage this, that's fine, but I will be honest and say this is not at all what I was looking for here," said Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga. "I almost feel like we should start from step one again."

Council members reluctantly allowed the project to proceed through the city's planning process at the meeting, which was a study session and did not include a formal vote.

The proposed office building has a storied history and is unusual in many ways. The outsized project, which would stand at 111 feet tall, is able to pack so much office space onto the small property through a complex deal with the Los Altos School District, whereby Merlone Geier agreed to purchase bonus density for the project in exchange for nearly $20 million.

Last year, the school district bought just over 11.6 acres of land east of Merlone Geier's proposal for a new school. In order to defray the eye-popping $155 million cost of acquisition, the school district is purposefully underdeveloping the property and "selling" to developers the remaining density -- roughly at a rate of $130 per square foot. Merlone Geier bought 150,000 square feet from the school district, and intends to use it all on the corner property.

Though council members have previously been willing to stomach projects using the transfer of development rights (TDRs) in order to help pay for a new school, Merlone Geier's proposal has been less successful. An earlier iteration of the project, which stood eight stories tall, was rejected by the council last year, forcing the developer to go back to the drawing board.

The project includes 15,000 square feet of ground-floor retail under 167,000 square feet of offices, along with four levels of underground parking, and asks for several exceptions from the city's development rules for San Antonio. It breaks the area's setback rules and is pressed up right against the sidewalk, is too tall and is too close to the adjacent office buildings from Merlone Geier's Phase II projects. What's more, the city would have to abandon its previous cap on office space on the northwest portion of the San Antonio shopping center, which previously only allowed 400,000 square feet of offices.

The northwest corner is only allowed to have an additional 39,000 square feet of offices, requiring an amendment to the city's San Antonio Precise Plan.

Resident Albert Jeans said the proposal amounts to "just one more monolithic block building" that has come to define Merlone Geier's development at San Antonio over the years, and that the series of rectangular box buildings create a sort of concrete canyon effect.

"I'm just sorry to see San Antonio center turn out the way it did," he said.

Councilwoman Lisa Matichak said she was disappointed that the project was an office building, and that she would have preferred housing. Removing the cap on office space at the corner also runs contrary to the city's plan to spread out office space and achieve an even mix of office, residential and retail development, she said.

Matichak said she also worried the council was poised to repeat past mistakes and allow the project, with narrow sidewalks and packed buildings, to be anything but pedestrian friendly.

"I think we learned a lot of lessons from Phase I, and when you know better, you do better," Matichak said. "Let's do better, let's not repeat the mistakes that were made in Phase I, and one of the mistakes is having the buildings too close together."

Councilwoman Alison Hicks said the corner property should be a "signature building" and a key location that defines the area, and that it will be the most prominent thing people see coming down San Antonio Road. She said the building needs to be rounded out and softened, and could use some kind of pedestrian-friendly designs like arcades. She said she would support moving some of the TDRs off the property if it meant improvements to the project.

Council members agreed at the study session to let Merlone Geier further refine the project's design and take into account some of their concerns, and agreed to allow a parking reduction for the site. Merlone Geier is planning to link the proposed underground parking to the much-larger Phase II office project, which has a massive 2,586 parking spaces and makes up for the shortcomings of the proposed project.

Comments

reader
Registered user
Waverly Park
on Dec 4, 2020 at 4:05 pm
reader, Waverly Park
Registered user
on Dec 4, 2020 at 4:05 pm

When a council member says "...but I will be honest and say..." I can't help but wonder, if they are being honest this time, what is the standard of honesty for all other utterances?

Perhaps I missed it, but is TDR defined for the reader in this article?

It seems most of what I read about new developments in MV follows a pattern. The out-of-town developers (who do not live in MV) have a vision for what MV should look like (or maybe that vision is to just maximize their profit), submits a plan that breaks numerous rules and requests numerous exemptions, council replies "well it's not exactly what we had in mind" but "reluctantly allows the project to proceed." vowing to not repeat mistakes made the last time they reluctantly allowed a project to proceed.

Council was expecting housing and the plan submitted is for offices?! Does said council member enter a salon, ask for a cut, and come out with a new color instead?

At least council got it right when they acknowledged that "mistakes were made" with Phase I. That's the understatement of the century! What could be more inviting than having to criss-cross a parking lot and dodge moving cars to access stores and restaurants, or walk down a long narrow alley to get from Safeway to Trader Joe's?

I'm seeing very little evidence that council or staff know much about design of communities. May I suggest they read Christoper Alexander's "A Pattern Language" and learn about the characteristics of inviting, comfortable living spaces.

Or they could just continue to let out-of-town developers decide what our town looks like.


smorr
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Dec 4, 2020 at 9:28 pm
smorr, Monta Loma
Registered user
on Dec 4, 2020 at 9:28 pm

San Antonio Center has become a very uninviting place. If Trader Joe's weren't there, I'd probably never go there. And WHY would Council even consider putting in more office space? Because of COVID, many employers have discovered that working from home is a great option and are either offering or requiring some workers to do that even after the pandemic is over. So we'll probably need far less office space than pre-pandemic and we'll have a bunch of empty useless buildings if we keep adding to the stock. Meantime, we're in great need of housing! C'mon Council. Do what's right and get Mtn View what we need - a beautiful, inviting mixed use center that we can be proud of instead of more boxy, crowded together buildings!


Mark
Registered user
Shoreline West
on Dec 4, 2020 at 11:50 pm
Mark, Shoreline West
Registered user
on Dec 4, 2020 at 11:50 pm

I do not understand why people seem to think that the corner location on such a busy intersection would be a good site for residential units. I would never live there, you could never open any widow, noise/smell from the street, kids could never go outside and play unsupervised. No Thank You.

The best use would be an office building. But the design of the proposal is one ugly building. Maybe a different architect is needed.

I am hearing that companies like Google and other tech companies are anxious to get workers back into the offices. They are less productive at home and most workers miss the social interactions with their co-workers.


Tal Shaya
Registered user
another community
on Dec 5, 2020 at 10:17 pm
Tal Shaya, another community
Registered user
on Dec 5, 2020 at 10:17 pm

Would make it difficult to get onto San Antonio from California Street during commute hours. It already takes 20 minutes to drive the two miles from there to the freeway because of heavy traffic. But no doubt this is coming, along with all four corners of the intersection.


Jeremy Hoffman
Registered user
Rengstorff Park
on Dec 6, 2020 at 7:47 am
Jeremy Hoffman, Rengstorff Park
Registered user
on Dec 6, 2020 at 7:47 am

I haven't agreed with all of Councilmember Matichak's positions in the past, so I want to voice my strong agreement with both of her quotes in this article, about the jobs-housing balance and the need to not repeat the mistakes of Phase 1 -- the design that is so hostile to foot traffic.

I don't know if this is a relevant comparison, but I think a corner that looks quite nice and inviting is the north of the busy intersection of Central and Moffett, with the diagonal bike/ped path cutting through the two apartment buildings and connecting to Stierlin.


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