An ambitious proposal to add more than 300 units to an existing apartment complex in Mountain View raised serious concerns by nearby homeowners that it would cause a traffic nightmare. But a new study shows those concerns may be unfounded.
A newly released report on the proposal at 555 W. Middlefield Road shows that boosting the number of apartments on the property from 402 to 726 would not cause significant traffic congestion on nearby streets. The muted effect of the proposal comes despite a projected increase of 1,800 in daily trips in and out of the complex, which are not expected to clog up nearby intersections.
The developer, AvalonBay Communities, has been trying since 2015 to revamp the Eaves Mountain View apartment complex by replacing the surface parking lots with additional homes, constructing two, 52-foot-tall, four-story buildings along with two underground parking garages. The proposal won the support of housing advocacy groups who say the project -- which adds apartments and does not demolish any existing units -- is exactly the kind of infill development that should be built in Mountain View.
But for many of the nearby homeowners on Cypress Point Drive, the project represents unwanted density and a harbinger of horrible traffic. Members of the Cypress Point Woods Homeowners Association sounded the alarm that the project would overwhelm Cypress Point Drive with cars and fell dozens of heritage trees on the property, all while causing myriad problems during construction. One resident even raised concerns that the boost in density would affect the city's ability to respond to a gas pipeline explosion or a large wildfire.
Though residents fighting against the project have called it "fundamentally flawed" and a threat to the lower-density communities to the south, the homeowners association requested that an alternative version -- one that drops the project from four stories to three -- be considered as part of the environmental analysis.
Despite the concerns, the project's environmental reports suggest that traffic won't look all that much different with the extra apartments. The analysis found that the number of daily vehicle trips would increase from 2,187 to 3,977, but that a series of traffic management measures -- including bike support and carshare services -- can get that number down to 3,378. These extra trips would add delays at nearby intersections, the worst of it at Moffett Boulevard and Middlefield Road during the evening commute, but only by a fraction of a second on average.
The rosy outlook comes in part because of the project's close proximity to Caltrain and VTA services, which are within half a mile of the apartment complex and easily accessible by bicycle. What's more, the developer is proposing at least 48 affordable units, which tend to generate fewer vehicle trips and less parking demand.
Where things get more complicated is how AvalonBay's project would affect traffic when considered alongside all the other housing and office projects that have already been approved by the city. A traffic analysis that takes into account the so-called "background" conditions shows that some intersections are bound to degrade in the coming years, and the infill housing contributes in a small way to that decline. Delays at Shoreline Boulevard and Middlefield Road are anticipated to worsen from 51.7 seconds to 55.5 during evening commute hours, even without the housing proposal.
The other major casualty is Tyrella Avenue, which has a stop sign to cross Middlefield Road. Drivers waiting for a break in commuter traffic to cross are expected to wait an average of 42.4 seconds during evening commute hours following the influx of new development, up from 30.4 seconds today.
One bright spot in the traffic analysis is that Cypress Point Drive won't turn into a traffic mess feared by neighboring residents. While the street is currently the best way for existing residents to access parking in the apartment complex, those parking lots are set to be demolished under AvalonBay's proposal. With underground parking supplanting those spaces, a majority of the traffic would instead be directed onto Middlefield Road. At most, about 25 additional cars are expected to use Cypress Point during peak commute hours.
Outside of traffic, the environmental documents note that the project would require the removal of 135 trees, including 62 heritage trees -- most of which are coast redwoods and olive trees. The majority of the 417 trees on the property would remain untouched, however, and AvalonBay is proposing to plant 197 new trees to replace the ones that are cut down.
The only problem flagged by the environmental review as a significant and unavoidable impact is that the construction will worsen air quality for the residents living in the 402 units on the property, kicking up particulate matter far above healthy levels. The problem will persist even with the use of clean diesel-powered equipment and newer construction vehicles, according to the study.
The only feasible workarounds would be to greatly reduce the scope of the project or to demolish the existing units and replace them with all-new construction, neither of which seem palatable. The Mountain View City Council already lent its support for the full increase in housing units, and one of the project's main selling points is that it wouldn't displace hundreds of existing tenants.
City officials are soliciting the public's feedback on the environmental impact report until Aug. 12. Anyone with questions or comments on the project may email Diana Pancholi, Senior Planner, at [email protected] or addressed to her at City of Mountain View, Community Development Department, P.O. Box 7540, Mountain View, CA 94041.