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Mountain View housing project banks on VTA light rail despite low ridership

408-unit development on Logue Avenue plans for few parking spaces in hopes that residents will use nearby transit

An eight-story project won the support of the Environmental Planning Commission, but questions remain over its lean parking. Courtesy city of Mountain View.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Mountain View housing project banks on VTA light rail despite low ridership

408-unit development on Logue Avenue plans for few parking spaces in hopes that residents will use nearby transit

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Fri, May 21, 2021, 1:45 pm

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.

Comments

Tina
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 21, 2021 at 4:44 pm
Tina, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on May 21, 2021 at 4:44 pm

I used to live near "Projects" in Queens, Manhattan and SF. Never thought in my wildest dreams they would be built in Mtn. View. By the way, the ones I used to live by were all eventually torn down. These projects over time become very undesirable. I like to see one member of the environmental housing commission take an apartment in such a place.


Activist Socialist
Registered user
Jackson Park
on May 21, 2021 at 4:46 pm
Activist Socialist, Jackson Park
Registered user
on May 21, 2021 at 4:46 pm

Parking requirements are just another tool for NIMBYs to lock working class people out of Mountain View. If you design your city to only be traversable by car, then of course you're not going to see many people using transit. Stop supporting unsustainable forms of transportation, and transit usage will improve.


OldGuy
Registered user
Whisman Station
on May 21, 2021 at 6:44 pm
OldGuy, Whisman Station
Registered user
on May 21, 2021 at 6:44 pm

The light rail is horrible. Originally it was every 15 minutes, then 20, then a half-hour. Transit needs to be every 10 minutes or people won't use it. Also make it free. And while I'm at it, eliminate the grade-level crossings. People need carrots, not sticks.

Residents need access to cars even if it is for occasional or emergency ise. MV has already skimped on parking in Whisman Park. Don't make it worse. With the trend towards electric cars, one can have comfort and sustainability. If cars favor middle-class people, the problem is poverty, not cars.


SC Parent
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on May 21, 2021 at 7:08 pm
SC Parent, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on May 21, 2021 at 7:08 pm

"she hopes" "they're hoping"
Sounds like a carefully considered decision based on facts and data. What could go wrong?

I find it difficult to believe that adding 12% more parking would kill the financials of this project. No, rather, it's a test balloon, to set a standard for what accommodations future developers will ask for (demand).

If the Environmental Planning Commission's zoning requirements for parking aren't accurate/viable/appropriate, maybe they should be revised in a fair, thoughtful manner rather than giving out gifts to developers in an ad hoc manner.


DEWT
Registered user
Waverly Park
on May 21, 2021 at 7:34 pm
DEWT, Waverly Park
Registered user
on May 21, 2021 at 7:34 pm

Anyone who has lived anywhere near these high rise projects in the midwest knows they are destined for failure -- no amenities, no shopping nearby, no green grass anywhere near you. I am ashamed of our council for even considering such monstrosities!


bluesjr
Registered user
Monta Loma
on May 21, 2021 at 7:58 pm
bluesjr, Monta Loma
Registered user
on May 21, 2021 at 7:58 pm

"ecosystem of a diversity of uses,"
hahaha hahaha, the inmates are running the asylum.

This whole situation reminds me of former criticism of how the light-rail system was sold to the public with "shamelessly inflated ridership numbers", as the SJ Merc later put it. Then our own former councilman wouldn't ride it to SJSU because of the transit time, so he drove, as per a MV Voice article on the subject.

I've lived within walking distance of San Antonio Caltrain station for 25 years and still waiting for the service to improve. And I've heard over and over, "increase density and mass-transit will solve the traffic problem, as if density in one area could ever solve the scatter-pattern of jobs/housing/retail/schools everywhere else.

I guess we will see if we keep approving projects all over town.


Activist Socialist
Registered user
Jackson Park
on May 21, 2021 at 8:56 pm
Activist Socialist, Jackson Park
Registered user
on May 21, 2021 at 8:56 pm

Electric cars aren't charged by magic. Cars will never be as sustainable as transit, and needing to have parking everywhere just adds to suburban sprawl, which is horrible for the environment. You can't have a nice, walkable city if there's parking lots everywhere that you *should* be building shops and housing.


Jeremy Hoffman
Registered user
Rengstorff Park
on May 22, 2021 at 7:59 am
Jeremy Hoffman, Rengstorff Park
Registered user
on May 22, 2021 at 7:59 am

While it sounds like this location has some challenges to wrinkle out, it's still a good idea to have some options for people to live in places without car parking.

The LA Times editorial last month "Eliminate parking requirements: Housing people is more important than housing cars" cites a Terner Center study that each parking space adds $36,000 to the cost of a home. (Not to mention the cost of the car, maintenance, and insurance!)
Web Link

Hopefully the development has good bike parking options. The majority of my trips around town are on foot or bike. It's liberating!


Mick
Registered user
another community
on May 22, 2021 at 10:50 am
Mick, another community
Registered user
on May 22, 2021 at 10:50 am

"But data suggests that light rail's ridership is much lower -- fewer than 1% of county residents regularly use light rail "

What about comparing apples to apples? What is the number among the county residents that live near light rail?
I would use light rail more often, had not the nearest stop been 5 miles away.


OldGuy
Registered user
Whisman Station
on May 22, 2021 at 11:27 am
OldGuy, Whisman Station
Registered user
on May 22, 2021 at 11:27 am

If you can have high-rise housing, you could have adequate high-rise parking. Not ideal but better than stiffing the residents.


LongResident
Registered user
another community
on May 22, 2021 at 2:30 pm
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on May 22, 2021 at 2:30 pm

I think what they are relying on is a lot of the residents being Google workers who take the Google bus to work each day, not VTA Light Rail. They will get more reduced car trips out of Tech Bus riders than they will out of Light Rail. Plus if they were smart they might make some parking for Zipcar there, but doesn't sound like they thought of that. It's really a minimal amount less parking than what is normally required. The story doesn't say whether there is reserved 1 space per unit or not, and if it will be included with the unit rent.


ivg
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 22, 2021 at 9:20 pm
ivg, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on May 22, 2021 at 9:20 pm

If there isn't enough parking, prospective tenants can vote with their feet and wallets.


JustAWorkingStiff
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 25, 2021 at 10:31 am
JustAWorkingStiff, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on May 25, 2021 at 10:31 am

A building that large needs to be closer to a major transit hub such as the downtown transit village with both CalTrain and VTA, where frequency of service will be higher. It's location somewhat near a sub-optimal VTA stop will mean that there will be low usage. Hope is not a plan. Of course, there are those who want to preserve the character of downtown by banning high rise buildings. So we are creating our own set of contradictory plans. Don't build where we can make best use of transit. And let's build where transit will be least effective.


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on May 26, 2021 at 2:20 pm
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on May 26, 2021 at 2:20 pm

Seems that there are a 'number of concessions' related to transit that the Council could require. 1) as suggested a public car rental set-a-side for some parking spaces. 2) parking slot not tied to unit (and cost of space not tied to unit rental), 3) electric charging (for public spaces and some dedicated to units), 4) Access Tags %(not all assigned parking slots), 5) guaranteed yearly subsidy for those wanting transit passes, 6) contract limit on Number of Vehicles registered at unit addresses(1 ave) (no DMV registration at address = no parking) (out of state vehicle = no parking), [ ] Restricted street parking in area.


SRB
Registered user
St. Francis Acres
on Jun 2, 2021 at 9:18 am
SRB, St. Francis Acres
Registered user
on Jun 2, 2021 at 9:18 am

With regards to Parking requirements, the City Council is sending mixed signals. On one hand, raising concerns that an apartment complex near transit might be under parked and spill over on street parking. On the other hand, entertaining free on street parking permits in Single Family Home streets where each home should have 2 off street parking spots.


Raymond
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Jun 2, 2021 at 9:39 pm
Raymond , Monta Loma
Registered user
on Jun 2, 2021 at 9:39 pm

Fewer parking places than one per bedroom pushes cars out onto the streets. Exiting neighbors experience the result.
Does the project adequately provide green park space for future residents? MV seems a bit short in this amenity.


Ok
Registered user
Sylvan Park
on Jun 3, 2021 at 10:25 pm
Ok, Sylvan Park
Registered user
on Jun 3, 2021 at 10:25 pm

Light rail does not go anywhere near the high school. Not sure about the middle school, but I suspect it does not go near it either. People will have to use their cars to drive children to their activities and citing the access to light rail as a reason for fewer parking spaces is lacking common sense.


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