A Mountain View housing project up for approval next month is looking to cut down on parking well below the city's requirements, with hopes that future residents will have plenty of access to public transit. But when that transit is VTA's light rail system, will people be willing to ditch their cars?
That's the quandary surrounding a new proposal at 400 Logue Ave., where the developer Miramar Capital is seeking to build an eight-story, 408-unit apartment complex on a comparatively tiny 2.5-acre site. If built, it would be one of the first housing developments in the city's East Whisman area, which was recently rezoned for dense offices and housing.
The city's Environmental Planning Commission gave a unanimous endorsement of the project Wednesday, but raised concerns about Miramar's lean approach to parking. The project has only 420 parking spaces for 408 units, well below the city's normal requirements and far below similar high-density housing elsewhere in Mountain View. The assumption is that the project, roughly 1,000 feet from the Middlefield VTA light rail station, is well situated enough that people won't need cars to travel.
It's a common trend in both local and regional planning to increase density and cut down on parking requirements near transit, including Caltrain and high-frequency bus routes, in order to spur more housing growth while keeping traffic impacts down. But the proposal raised eyebrows at the May 19 commission meeting, with commission member Bill Cranston questioning whether the parking assumptions were realistic. Right now East Whisman is an industrial area with few amenities, he said, with no grocery stores, coffee shops, dry cleaners, salons or anywhere else that people will want to visit.
"It seems like people would need to get into a car, and I'm just struggling to try to reconcile that," Cranston said.
Senior city planner Eric Anderson said that light rail is in itself an "ecosystem of a diversity of uses," and that those seeking amenities can take light rail to areas outside of the East Whisman area where services are nearby. He pointed out that the new zoning in East Whisman is meant to discourage a huge investment in parking infrastructure, and that the goal of the area is to reduce dependency on cars and put jobs, housing and amenities all nearby each other.
The traffic analysis for the project did not have any data to suggest how many people would actually use light rail, but "traffic rich" areas could see transit making up 5% to 10% of the trips, said Gary Black, a consultant with the firm Hexagon. But data suggests that light rail's ridership is much lower -- fewer than 1% of county residents regularly use light rail -- and even that low number is on the decline.
Some commission members felt the problem will be temporary, and that an influx of future housing projects in East Whisman will solve the dearth of services in the area. Commission member Allie Schmiesing said she hopes that a critical mass of residents living in the area will attract important neighborhood retail like grocery stores, which can only survive in areas with enough housing.
"I am hopeful as more housing comes into this area that more amenities will follow," she said.
Others, including commission members Preeti Hehmeyer and Joyce Yin, said they're hoping that Valley Transportation Authority will be able to boost ridership, which is a critical part of the transportation network in East Whisman that's driving higher office and housing growth in the area.
In the past, City Council members have been more skeptical, calling the light rail system inefficient and unlikely to meet the transit needs for the city's high-density vision for East Whisman.
By building 420 parking spaces, the Logue Avenue project would be 53 spaces below the zoning requirements, and significantly below the last East Whisman housing project that was approved last year. The project along Middlefield Road had 588 spaces for 463 units.
Despite the misgivings about parking, the commission's endorsement on Wednesday came with broad support for the density, design and 62 affordable units included in the project. Sweetening the deal, the proposal by Miramar Capital adds extra density to the project in exchange for giving money to the Los Altos School District to the tune of $4.7 million. The deal was negotiated in 2019 in a complex deal to get a school built in the San Antonio shopping center in Mountain View, on the opposite side of the city from the proposed housing project and in a different school district.
The project is expected to come before the Mountain View City Council on June 22.