News

Mountain View City Council tells developer to save trees, reduce parking

Residents and council also discuss 555 W. Middlefield Road proposal's air quality impacts

A rendering of one of the new housing buildings proposed at 555 W. Middlefield Road in Mountain View. Courtesy AvalonBay Communities/BDE Architecture.

A development proposal to build 323 new housing units and renovate 402 existing housing units at 555 W. Middlefield Road in Mountain View took one step forward and what appeared to be two steps back along its road to possible approval at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

The proposal under discussion is from developer AvalonBay Communities, which aims to build three new large apartment and condo buildings at the 14.5-acre property in an existing apartment complex -- phased in over the course of six years.

The end result would be a large underground parking structure, 323 new housing units ranging in size from studios to three-bedrooms and a new 1.3-acre park. Of those new homes, 48 would be designated for rent below the market rate by eligible households.

The project was first proposed back in 2015 and has undergone many rounds of public review, according to applicant Joe Kirchofer, vice president at AvalonBay Communities.

"This is exactly the type of thoughtful transit-oriented development Mountain View has prioritized in (its) long-term planning," he said.

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Following hours of debate, the council ultimately voted 5-2, with Councilmembers Lisa Matichak and Margaret Abe-Koga opposed, to approve the environmental review documents for the project but stopped short of approving the housing development at the Feb. 8 meeting. Instead, the council asked the applicant and city staff to develop options to alter the amount of underground parking proposed at the project in order to save some aboveground heritage trees. Staff and consultants would also have to research how such changes would impact traffic at the property.

Much of the council's debate centered around the concerns raised by existing residents at the 402 existing homes that will face construction impacts of the new housing if built as proposed, covering things like noise, air quality and construction-related traffic over the proposed six-year construction timeline.

To minimize the impacts on existing residents, the developer plans to offer new HEPA air filters to all households and free hospitality suites where people can go to work or meet in a quiet place if needed. In addition, residents will be given rent reductions when certain amenities are unavailable during construction or when their homes are close to the construction area.

In particular, council members expressed concerns that the environmental review found that, during construction, there would be times when the particulate matter generated by moving dirt around and other construction activities would exceed concentration thresholds laid out by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Such impacts, if they cannot be mitigated below a certain threshold, are considered "significant and unavoidable," and in those circumstances, the City Council has to pass a "Statement of Overriding Considerations" to say that the benefits of the development outweigh the potential negatives for the project to move forward.

According to Senior Planner Diana Pancholi, the way that analyses of particulate matter exposure during construction are done requires the use of conservative assumptions that don't necessarily mirror the actual exposure a person would likely face. For instance, the analyses measure the amount of air pollution a person would be exposed to if they were outdoors and near the construction site 24/7, but doesn't calculate the significant reductions in exposure that occur from being indoors and using an air filter, as well as going outdoors after workers are required to spray down the site when each workday ends.

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A number of residents now living at 555 W. Middlefield Road urged the council to preserve a single large redwood tree, "Tree 179," as well as other trees situated on the property.

"Please, please save our trees and protect our health," said resident Kristine Keller, who said she lives in the middle of what will be the project site.

Under the proposed development plan, that redwood tree would be cut down because it is on top of a proposed three-story underground parking structure. However, in order to preserve the tree and not excavate there, the developer would likely have to cut the amount of parking onsite by 80 to 100 parking spaces, Kirchofer said.

Councilmember Pat Showalter said she'd favor seeing any trees that do have to be removed put toward building something useful or artistic rather than just mulched. "It would be a good opportunity to use sustainable materials on-site," she said.

Four residents at 555 W. Middlefield Road link hands around a redwood tree, "Tree 179." The City Council asked staff to develop plans to reconfigure underground parking plans to preserve the trees. Courtesy Kristine Keller.

Other Mountain View residents favored the proposal, arguing that it adds much-needed housing in a location that minimizes the environmental impacts that those new households will create. The project is near transit and schools, and so they'll be able to use alternatives to driving to get where they need to go. Others said that it added a substantial amount of "infill" housing units – or homes in existing built-up areas – without displacing current residents from rent-controlled units.

Raiza Singh of Mountain View YIMBY, a local pro-housing advocacy group, asked the council to approve the project. "All trees matter, not just those in the vicinity of Mountain View," she said. "Housing policy is climate policy. We need housing in urban infill areas, near jobs, school and healthcare."

During the council's most recent discussion about the project, about a year ago, council members appeared uninterested in changing the proposed amount of new housing at the project.

However, during Tuesday's debate, Abe-Koga proposed that staffers explore reducing the number of housing units in the proposal if it was considered necessary to reduce underground parking to preserve heritage trees.

"I think it's a values question," she said. "Do you want to save more trees, or do you want another apartment?"

She also favored adopting terms that would require the developer to install new windows on all of the existing apartments before construction of any new housing. In response, Kirchofer said that replacing all of the windows was a major undertaking that would likely take years to secure permits for and complete, and was not something the developer could feasibly do before beginning construction on the new housing units.

Ultimately, Abe-Koga's motion failed 2-5, with council members Ellen Kamei, Sally Lieber, Pat Showalter, Alison Hicks and Lucas Ramirez opposed.

Another motion, led by Showalter, to simply approve the project as recommended by staff, also failed, on a 2-4-1 vote, with support from only Showalter and Ramirez, while Lieber abstained.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the council voted 6-1 to approve the environmental documents for the development proposal, rather than 5-2. According to City Clerk Heather Glaser, Councilmember Abe-Koga's microphone cut out and her "nay" vote sounded like aye vote, but the record has been updated.

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Mountain View City Council tells developer to save trees, reduce parking

Residents and council also discuss 555 W. Middlefield Road proposal's air quality impacts

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Thu, Feb 10, 2022, 10:26 am

A development proposal to build 323 new housing units and renovate 402 existing housing units at 555 W. Middlefield Road in Mountain View took one step forward and what appeared to be two steps back along its road to possible approval at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

The proposal under discussion is from developer AvalonBay Communities, which aims to build three new large apartment and condo buildings at the 14.5-acre property in an existing apartment complex -- phased in over the course of six years.

The end result would be a large underground parking structure, 323 new housing units ranging in size from studios to three-bedrooms and a new 1.3-acre park. Of those new homes, 48 would be designated for rent below the market rate by eligible households.

The project was first proposed back in 2015 and has undergone many rounds of public review, according to applicant Joe Kirchofer, vice president at AvalonBay Communities.

"This is exactly the type of thoughtful transit-oriented development Mountain View has prioritized in (its) long-term planning," he said.

Following hours of debate, the council ultimately voted 5-2, with Councilmembers Lisa Matichak and Margaret Abe-Koga opposed, to approve the environmental review documents for the project but stopped short of approving the housing development at the Feb. 8 meeting. Instead, the council asked the applicant and city staff to develop options to alter the amount of underground parking proposed at the project in order to save some aboveground heritage trees. Staff and consultants would also have to research how such changes would impact traffic at the property.

Much of the council's debate centered around the concerns raised by existing residents at the 402 existing homes that will face construction impacts of the new housing if built as proposed, covering things like noise, air quality and construction-related traffic over the proposed six-year construction timeline.

To minimize the impacts on existing residents, the developer plans to offer new HEPA air filters to all households and free hospitality suites where people can go to work or meet in a quiet place if needed. In addition, residents will be given rent reductions when certain amenities are unavailable during construction or when their homes are close to the construction area.

In particular, council members expressed concerns that the environmental review found that, during construction, there would be times when the particulate matter generated by moving dirt around and other construction activities would exceed concentration thresholds laid out by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Such impacts, if they cannot be mitigated below a certain threshold, are considered "significant and unavoidable," and in those circumstances, the City Council has to pass a "Statement of Overriding Considerations" to say that the benefits of the development outweigh the potential negatives for the project to move forward.

According to Senior Planner Diana Pancholi, the way that analyses of particulate matter exposure during construction are done requires the use of conservative assumptions that don't necessarily mirror the actual exposure a person would likely face. For instance, the analyses measure the amount of air pollution a person would be exposed to if they were outdoors and near the construction site 24/7, but doesn't calculate the significant reductions in exposure that occur from being indoors and using an air filter, as well as going outdoors after workers are required to spray down the site when each workday ends.

A number of residents now living at 555 W. Middlefield Road urged the council to preserve a single large redwood tree, "Tree 179," as well as other trees situated on the property.

"Please, please save our trees and protect our health," said resident Kristine Keller, who said she lives in the middle of what will be the project site.

Under the proposed development plan, that redwood tree would be cut down because it is on top of a proposed three-story underground parking structure. However, in order to preserve the tree and not excavate there, the developer would likely have to cut the amount of parking onsite by 80 to 100 parking spaces, Kirchofer said.

Councilmember Pat Showalter said she'd favor seeing any trees that do have to be removed put toward building something useful or artistic rather than just mulched. "It would be a good opportunity to use sustainable materials on-site," she said.

Other Mountain View residents favored the proposal, arguing that it adds much-needed housing in a location that minimizes the environmental impacts that those new households will create. The project is near transit and schools, and so they'll be able to use alternatives to driving to get where they need to go. Others said that it added a substantial amount of "infill" housing units – or homes in existing built-up areas – without displacing current residents from rent-controlled units.

Raiza Singh of Mountain View YIMBY, a local pro-housing advocacy group, asked the council to approve the project. "All trees matter, not just those in the vicinity of Mountain View," she said. "Housing policy is climate policy. We need housing in urban infill areas, near jobs, school and healthcare."

During the council's most recent discussion about the project, about a year ago, council members appeared uninterested in changing the proposed amount of new housing at the project.

However, during Tuesday's debate, Abe-Koga proposed that staffers explore reducing the number of housing units in the proposal if it was considered necessary to reduce underground parking to preserve heritage trees.

"I think it's a values question," she said. "Do you want to save more trees, or do you want another apartment?"

She also favored adopting terms that would require the developer to install new windows on all of the existing apartments before construction of any new housing. In response, Kirchofer said that replacing all of the windows was a major undertaking that would likely take years to secure permits for and complete, and was not something the developer could feasibly do before beginning construction on the new housing units.

Ultimately, Abe-Koga's motion failed 2-5, with council members Ellen Kamei, Sally Lieber, Pat Showalter, Alison Hicks and Lucas Ramirez opposed.

Another motion, led by Showalter, to simply approve the project as recommended by staff, also failed, on a 2-4-1 vote, with support from only Showalter and Ramirez, while Lieber abstained.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the council voted 6-1 to approve the environmental documents for the development proposal, rather than 5-2. According to City Clerk Heather Glaser, Councilmember Abe-Koga's microphone cut out and her "nay" vote sounded like aye vote, but the record has been updated.

Comments

Frank Richards
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Feb 10, 2022 at 10:29 am
Frank Richards, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Feb 10, 2022 at 10:29 am

I'm so glad the Council majority held the line against reducing the number of homes in the development. Homes for people are more important than homes for cars!


Lenny Siegel2
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Feb 10, 2022 at 10:53 am
Lenny Siegel2, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Feb 10, 2022 at 10:53 am

I love trees. I especially love redwood trees. I hug them.
When I was on Council, I supported saving the redwoods on Sierra Ave. I tried to save the redwoods that were chopped down to build a parking structure at El Camino Hospital. I voted against cutting down the redwoods along Shoreline Blvd. at Google’s Charleston East development, even though some conservation groups supported removal because they were the wrong trees.
But I am disturbed that some people in our community are using trees as a political football. That is, at Tuesday’s Council meeting some people advocated tree protection as a way to try to downscale or even kill the addition of 323 housing units to 555 W. Middlefield. Some Council members, who had voted to clear-cut trees and homes on Rock Street and elsewhere on Middlefield, all of a sudden became tree protectors.
Mountain View has written, but flexible tree policies, embedded in the Heritage Tree Ordinance and the Community Tree Master Plan. In a nutshell, these policies do not prevent all tree removals. They ask that development projects be designed around trees, to minimize the removal of large trees. They require replanting that will eventually significantly add to our tree canopy.
But in considering the removal or transplantation of mature, healthy trees, the city must consider other, important goals, such as the desirable reduction in surface parking and the essential addition of new homes. As we work to preserve trees, we must weigh the trade-offs. And we cannot afford to heed to pleadings of people who defend trees only when they have an ulterior motive.


Ed
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Feb 10, 2022 at 2:15 pm
Ed, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Feb 10, 2022 at 2:15 pm

Maximizing homes for human beings, saving some trees, and reducing the mandated space for free car storage? Sounds like a win-win!


Johnny Yuma
Registered user
Blossom Valley
on Feb 10, 2022 at 3:12 pm
Johnny Yuma, Blossom Valley
Registered user
on Feb 10, 2022 at 3:12 pm

I’m concerned about the out of-control growth that appears to be a part of Mountain View’s DNA. When is enough enough? When it’s bumper-to-bumper gridlock? Maybe the city is trying to satisfy its insatiable appetite for more tax revenue… Who knows?

If growth is unavoidable (which is clearly the case), creating small communities comprising housing, commercial, and retail — all nearby — will give residents an alternative to crowding our roads.


ivg
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2022 at 3:54 pm
ivg, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Feb 10, 2022 at 3:54 pm

Thank you Lenny for the detailed and balanced background. I just want to add one thing. This project was first proposed in 2015. In six and a half years, it's gone through 15 public meetings. As much as we might want less parking and more trees, at a certain point we have to say "enough is enough" and approve the project.


Frank Richards
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Feb 10, 2022 at 4:10 pm
Frank Richards, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Feb 10, 2022 at 4:10 pm

That's a really great point, ivg. It seems much more prudent to relax parking requirements across the board (or even eliminate them) in order to give builders more flexibility of layouts, rather than start tacking on these requests at the eleventh hour.


Free Speech
Registered user
Martens-Carmelita
on Feb 10, 2022 at 4:11 pm
Free Speech, Martens-Carmelita
Registered user
on Feb 10, 2022 at 4:11 pm

The developer, Avalon Bay Communities, does not give a damn about housing in Mountain View. They are conveniently located in Arlington Virginia – close to DC and the home of lobbyists. The perception of a housing shortage in Mountain View has been artificially created. Drive around the city and you will see, everywhere, “vacant” and “to rent” and “available” signs. There is no shortage of housing but a shortage of affordable housing, for sure. Avalon Bay Communities is not in the business of providing charitable low cost housing. They are in it solely for profit.
Most residents value trees as an important part of their environment. Avalon sees every tree as an obstacle to increasing their cash flow. Let’s save as many trees as we can. Are you listening Ms. Showalter and Mr. Siegel?


Frank Richards
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Feb 10, 2022 at 4:15 pm
Frank Richards, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Feb 10, 2022 at 4:15 pm

Free Speech, I hardly think you can say there's no housing shortage when the average rent is $2896 and homes are selling for millions of dollars. I'd hate to see a shortage if this isn't one!


Johnny Yuma
Registered user
Blossom Valley
on Feb 10, 2022 at 4:50 pm
Johnny Yuma, Blossom Valley
Registered user
on Feb 10, 2022 at 4:50 pm

I’m kind of curious, what is considered affordable housing? $300,000? $600,000? The notion that Mountain View is going to provide affordable housing is a pipe dream. Want affordable housing? Go to Arkansas.


Frank Richards
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Feb 10, 2022 at 5:07 pm
Frank Richards, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Feb 10, 2022 at 5:07 pm

Usually people are considered rent-burdened when they spend more than 30% of their income on housing. It's an imperfect measure, but a good heuristic. To apply that here, the average rent in Mountain View is unaffordable to anyone making less than about $120K per year. You may disagree, but I think people making less than $120K per year should be able to live in Mountain View.


Lenny Siegel
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Feb 10, 2022 at 5:39 pm
Lenny Siegel, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Feb 10, 2022 at 5:39 pm

In this project, the developer will provide - at its expense, not the government's - 48 units of below market housing. That means the rent will be based on the income of the residents (30%, I believe), serving residents with an average of 65% of the area median income for their household size.

It will be interesting to see how the current residents of the complex as well as neighbors across the street view the trade-off between parking and trees. In my experience, neighbors oppose reducing parking because of the fear of overflow.


Kristine
Registered user
Willowgate
on Feb 10, 2022 at 5:41 pm
Kristine, Willowgate
Registered user
on Feb 10, 2022 at 5:41 pm

HUGE Redwood #179 is a well loved community pillar here at 555 W Middlefield, and we don’t need as much parking as this plan currently includes! Why rip out 12 centuries old protective mature redwood trees for parking spots we do not need?? I learned from city council members at the public meeting on 2/8 that it is a growing issue: new developments with parking garages with many unused spots. Why would we trade protective mature heritage trees for unused parking spots? As our neighbor, Diane, said so well during the public comment on this, if this is MV’s mentality you will need to remove the trees from the city logo. Will we put a parking garage on the logo instead?
Of course not, let’s just get this right.


ivg
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2022 at 8:53 pm
ivg, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Feb 10, 2022 at 8:53 pm

Yes, that was an interesting dynamic. The only neighbors in play are the Cypress Point HOA, which has off-street parking. Maybe this is abundant enough that they're not worried about Avalon residents parking on the street.

As irked as I am about the project being delayed yet again, I'm glad that it's for less parking and more trees rather than the other way around!


Frank Richards
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Feb 11, 2022 at 10:00 am
Frank Richards, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Feb 11, 2022 at 10:00 am

Kristine,

That's one of the things people often miss in how cities do planning. Did you know that, across the board, the city *requires* builders to put in a certain number of parking spaces when building? Stated differently, they make it illegal to reduce parking! That's why it'd be great to get rid of those minimum parking requirements in the city so we give them more flexibility. Maybe even set a maximum amount of parking instead!


Kristine
Registered user
Willowgate
on Feb 11, 2022 at 11:23 am
Kristine, Willowgate
Registered user
on Feb 11, 2022 at 11:23 am

Yes Frank, exactly! That’s what I’ve learned, except it’s actually a city recommendation, not a requirement. Of course we need to have this changed, I agree. That’s essential- changing outdated city recommendations/requirements is always needed. And we’ve reached that point now.

Some people want to push housing through at all costs & seem to not think of these things to match the changing ways of the world. The need for as many parking spaces is a thing of the past with how much has changed in public transportation accessibility (especially in our location), ride share apps, parking space share apps, delivery services, and Mobility Wallets (that incentivize using these options).

Many Avalon residents are young professionals who bike & walk to most of our needs because it is all close by. People I’ve met here at 555 W Middlefield don’t have cars because of this. My partner is one of them and used the Scoop app where neighbors also working in Palo Alto were matched with her to drive her to work (these resources make less cars possible and connect people; she made friends with neighbors in this way too). The world is changing and our parking needs have changed. There will be enough parking for those who need it (We need to prioritize seniors, those who are differently abled, families with children, and those who need cars for their job, followed by others who will be able to lease a spot) but we sure don’t need an abundance of parking especially when it means ripping out centuries old redwoods we can’t get back.

If you listen closely to the 2/8 council meeting the Avalon developer was significantly rounding up the estimation of spaces that may need to be removed from the plan to keep our redwoods,(hopefully all 12) inclusive of #179. If you listen closely, he indicated perhaps 60 places can be removed from the plan. It is feasible and other options like car stackers are a way to maximize parking in less space. There are options to get this right!


Lenny Siegel2
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Feb 11, 2022 at 12:15 pm
Lenny Siegel2, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Feb 11, 2022 at 12:15 pm

@Kristine
In the long run, there is general agreement that we should reduce the number of parking spaces in new development. Unbundling is a great strategy for doing that. But it's complicated.
Reducing on-site parking requirements and/or proposals to unbundle the rental of parking spaces usually generate concerns among neighbors, because IF new residents acquire cars they may overwhelm street parking. This was the concern at Madera, on Evelyn. It turned out not to be a problem there because Google rented a large fraction of the units as an employee hotel. But we can't count on corporate tenancies everywhere.
Around here, families with children and extended families tend to need more parking than smaller households. We take a risk in limiting parking that we will discourage families from putting down roots here.
That said, this is an ideal place to try out a reduced parking requirement, but the city has to be careful not to overdo it.


SRB
Registered user
St. Francis Acres
on Feb 11, 2022 at 1:49 pm
SRB, St. Francis Acres
Registered user
on Feb 11, 2022 at 1:49 pm

Re: parking, seems like the developer proposed what City requires and what everyone wanted... up until this past Tuesday :)

If City Council and neighors are now on board with reducing parking for saving a few trees, that's great. But I do hope this doesn't delay approval for too long nor require a gazillion more meetings; this project positives vastly outweigh the few negatives.




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