A former Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) parking lot currently serving homeless residents in Mountain View could soon be replaced by as many as 220 affordable apartments, as city officials look to build dense housing for low-income residents on the property.
The city is currently leasing and expects to buy the parking lot at 87 E. Evelyn Ave., with a goal of converting the 2.1-acre site into housing. The location is currently one of three safe parking sites operated by the city, which allows homeless residents living in vehicles to park their cars and RVs on the site.
The safe parking site supports up to 30 oversized vehicles and up to 21 passenger vehicles, making it a significant part of the program, but it was always meant to be temporary. Now the city is looking to take ownership of the lot, for a purchase price to the tune of $13 million, and build anywhere from 160 to 220 units across a five- to eight-story building.
The Mountain View City Council laid out its priorities for the future housing project at its May 10 meeting, drafting a framework to give prospective developers an idea of what the project should look like. Council members largely agreed that the housing should be dense, and that they would be open to going beyond the height limits recommended by staff. Councilwoman Alison Hicks said some nonprofit developers are finding it feasible to build mid-rise buildings of seven stories and taller, and the site's location – in an industrial district far from single-family homes – makes it an appealing place to go for taller buildings.
The council also agreed to maximize the number of units subject to the city's live-work preference, meaning those who live and work in Mountain View will have priority access to the coveted affordable units. The Plan is to include units with a broad range of income eligibility requirements ranging from extremely low income to middle-income households.
In March, the nonprofit Charities Housing announced that it was purchasing two properties along Evelyn Avenue for development into affordable housing, both of which form a triangle-shaped lot right next door to the VTA parking lot. Charities is seeking to build around 160 units, leveraging cash from Santa Clara County's Measure A bond to pay for construction.
City Council members agreed that the two projects should be strongly coordinated, potentially even under the same planning process, and that any contract with a developer to build on the city-owned lot should require collaboration with Charities Housing. Mountain View is required to go through a competitive bidding process, however, and cannot simply award a contract to Charities to do a combined development, according to the city's legal staff.
The council was split on how much parking ought to be included, and whether to set defined parking requirements. Hicks said the initial ask of developers should have no minimum requirements, and that the number of spaces should be based on future traffic demand management (TDM) measures and a careful look at the lower parking demand typical of affordable housing projects.
But Councilwoman Lisa Matichak warned that parking on nearby streets like Pioneer Way is already constrained, and that nearby businesses are already concerned about spillover parking that could deter customers. She said she was wary of any standards that involve fewer than one parking space per unit.
"If someone is proposing less than one, I would want a parking study," she said. "Without that I think it has to be at least one per unit in addition to a robust TDM program."
Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga took a similar stance, and said it's unrealistic to assume people are going to walk and bike to neighborhood amenities or Landels Elementary School.
But ratcheting up parking requirements to at least one space per unit also fell short of majority support, with the council instead falling back on a recommendation by staff to build between 0.5 to 0.75 parking spaces per unit.
As it stands, the city is still using the VTA site on a long-term lease with VTA, which stipulates that the safe parking operations must shut down by the end of 2024. But once the city purchases and owns the parking lot, it can extend that timeline indefinitely until construction of affordable housing begins. City officials told council members that they would take measures to ensure those living in vehicles on the VTA lot will have an "appropriate pathway" to affordable housing, with a goal of avoiding displacement once the safe parking shuts down.