When the Mountain View City Council narrowly voted in favor of an 85-unit rowhouse development at 570 S. Rengstorff Ave. last September, along with demolishing 70 apartments to make way for it, community members like Jackie Cashen felt a pang of deja vu.
Cashen was displaced from her home when 2310 Rock St. was razed in a similar redevelopment project approved in 2019. As the Voice reported, Cashen said the redevelopment of her apartment complex separated families and forced her neighbors to scatter throughout the city.
"Don't let any more affordable housing slip through our fingers and make a difficult situation even worse than it already is," Cashen said at the time.
What happened at 570 S. Rengstorff has become a familiar event in Mountain View in recent years: naturally affordable housing — typically older, multifamily apartments — are redeveloped into market-rate rowhouses or townhomes that ultimately displace the residents living there. But for Mayor Lucas Ramirez, what happened at 570 S. Rengstorff was particularly disheartening: If the city's R3 zoning wasn't so restrictive, Ramirez said, the outcome at 570 S. Rengstorff could have looked very different.
"Years ago there was a developer who was looking at that site who wanted to build multifamily ownership condos," Ramirez told the Voice. "But the (city) staff said you can't do that because the zoning doesn't allow you to go that dense, or that tall."
What could have been a form of housing that's more affordable instead turned into another entry on the city's growing list of redevelopments that displace residents.
"The totality of this has been really bad for our community," Ramirez said. "We've lost over 1,000 units in the past several years."
For the past few years, the Mountain View City Council and city staff have been looking at ways to revamp the city's R3 zoning district, encompassing large swaths of the city that allow for multifamily housing like apartments, condos, rowhouses and townhomes, and accounts for close to one-third of all homes in the city.
According to Ramirez, current requirements in the zoning ordinance make it next to impossible for developers to propose apartment and condo projects that are profitable for them but also affordable for residents.
The city's R3 zoning update is an attempt to ease some of those restrictions, which could lead to the development of 9,000 additional housing units, according to previous estimates by city staff.
In looking at a property like 570 S. Rengstorff, Ramirez said, if there hadn't been so many barriers in the city's zoning for building dense R3 housing, perhaps the originally proposed project for more affordable, multifamily condos could have been the outcome instead.
"I think we can all agree that 570 S. Rengstorff is an appropriate place for high density housing. It's already zoned R3, we're building 85 houses there right now," Ramirez said. "If that's the case, could we accommodate greater density to allow for more accessible, entry-level ownership housing? Would it have been appropriate to work with the developer to get dedication of land for a new park? Wouldn't it have been nice to have inclusionary housing? I think those are the kinds of questions that the community should be asking."
Starting tonight, July 19, the community will have a chance to ask those questions and more. The city is holding a series of community meetings to seek input on what residents would like future growth in R3 zoned areas to look like in their neighborhoods.
"What we're going to be presenting to the community tonight and over the coming weeks is really some alternative ways to look at how we can modify the R3 district with the potential for a range of possible growth scenarios," said Eric Anderson, advance planning manager for the city. "Just because we presented in 2021 a possible 9,000 unit growth scenario doesn't mean that that's set in stone."
The R3 zoning changes could also create more opportunities to build different housing types, such as stacked-flat condos and more ownership units. The revamped standards could lead to more community benefits including parks and open space.
All meetings will be held on Zoom from 7 to 9 p.m. Here's the meeting schedule:
•Monday, July 25: Moffett/Whisman
•Tuesday, Aug. 2: San Antonio/Rengstorff/Del Medio
•Tuesday, Aug. 9: Central Neighborhoods
•Thursday, Aug. 11: Springer/Cuesta/Phyllis
•Tuesday, Aug. 16: Grant/Sylvan Park
The meetings will give residents a chance to not only reimagine what multifamily housing could look like in Mountain View, but also express concerns and questions about what that growth means for the city.
"We're really going out to the community to get the pulse of the community on this question of growth," Anderson said. "There is a state law that says we can't down-zone, we can't reduce the overall capacity of the R3 zone, so we have to be at least growth neutral. But any amount of growth is still on the table."