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.