The Mountain View City Council brought the city’s housing element draft one step closer to completion on Jan. 24 after approving a few key zoning amendments to allow for residential development on shopping center sites while still requiring retail uses.
The housing element update is a state-mandated process that jurisdictions must undergo every eight years, requiring cities to plan for housing growth based on the Regional Housing Needs Allocation. Cities must demonstrate those units could likely get built within the next eight years by creating a site inventory listing all properties that could reasonably accommodate residential development.
Among the proposed changes, city staff are recommending zoning amendments that allow for residential and mixed-use development at shopping centers, which has raised concerns and even false rumors that neighborhood retail would shutter to make way for housing.
While the changes sound like a big deal, housing has always been allowed on the city's so-called Village Centers.
Whether a site allows for residential development comes back to a city’s general plan and zoning ordinances. While the general plan establishes a high-level vision for how a city will approach future development, the zoning ordinance controls how that development pans out on a more granular level. The zoning ordinance designates each property in the city with an allowed use, such as residential, commercial, or a combination of both.
Per state law, a city’s general plan and zoning ordinance are meant to be aligned, and cities are legally required to make the two documents consistent with one another. But that's not always the case.
“Mountain View, for the most part, has zoning that is consistent with the general plan,” Council member Lucas Ramirez previously told the Voice. “But not every property.”
One of the biggest gaps between the city’s general plan and zoning ordinance are its Village Centers, such as those located along El Camino Real; Grant Park Plaza on Grant Road; and Blossom Valley Shopping Center at the intersection of Miramonte Avenue and Cuesta Drive. While the general plan allows for mixed-use development on these sites – meaning both residential and commercial are allowed – the zoning ordinance only allows for commercial.
In order to include Village Centers on the housing element sites inventory, and to comply with state law, city staff recommended that council update the zoning ordinance to allow for residential, mixed-use development on Village Center sites that are already allowed such development in the general plan. The council unanimously approved these recommendations at the Jan. 24 meeting.
This doesn’t mean that Mountain View’s shopping centers will be suddenly replaced by residential developments, as some have suggested. The council vote also ensures that future Village Center projects must include neighborhood commercial uses, publicly accessible open spaces and sensitive transitions to surrounding residential uses.
In addition to the Village Center updates, the City Council also approved a change to the zoning ordinance that eliminates lot width and lot size minimums for 100% affordable housing projects within the city’s High Density Zoning District, also called R4.
“This will allow for more flexibility for 100% affordable housing development at higher densities on these smaller sites,” said Senior Planner Ellen Yau.
By removing barriers, the city can encourage more affordable housing development – something cities are required to plan for in their housing elements.