Mountain View took a major step Tuesday toward transforming its most famous business park, as officials began discussions of where housing should go and what it should look like in the city’s red-hot North Bayshore.
The answers to those questions are being closely watched for their potential to impact plans for massive office/R&D expansion from Google, LinkedIn, the Sobrato Organization and others that blew past the city’s allotment of new office space in February. Already, some of those plans are in flux, as the issue of housing placement has spurred two landowners — the Sobrato Organization and Google Inc. — to suggest residential alternatives to existing proposals.
In a significant milestone, Mountain View's City Council on Tuesday directed a consultant to study six areas for housing — five recommended by staff, adding up to 100 acres, as well as another 22-acre site suggested by Google. The vote, 6-1 with councilman John Inks dissenting, is a remarkable shift from last fall, when a previous council solidified a jobs-only growth plan that allowed more than 3 million square feet of new office space, but no housing.
Council members in February voted in principal to update the plan and allow housing, something Google has long supported; Tuesday’s vote begins the nitty-gritty work to figure out how it would all work.
Driving the push: A huge jobs/housing imbalance in the city that is only slated to get worse as Google, LinkedIn and others embark on large expansion projects in the North Bayshore. Just how many units are possible is unclear. Also to be studied: How dangerous is ground contamination, a legacy of decades of industrial and R&D uses in the area.
Here are some takeaways from the meeting:
The six housing sites: The council green-lighted a study of six areas: A block west of Shoreline Boulevard and south of Charleston Road (site 1 on the map attached with this story); a block on the other side of Shoreline and south of Charleston (2); the Shorebird Way area (3); the Pear Avenue/Space Park Way neighborhood (4); an area north of L’Avenida Street and west of the Computer History Museum (5); and a block east of Joaquin Road and south of Charleston (6).
Changes in plans: The areas include some sites where Google Inc. and Sobrato have proposed huge office expansions. But both companies are fine with housing on these sites (or at least studying it for part of them.) Sobrato informed the council on Tuesday that it was proposing an alternative to its proposal, suggesting housing be built on its land north of Pear Avenue — something that would significantly reduce its application for Bonus FAR down to about 176,000 square feet from 363,000 square feet. (Bonus FAR, or floor area ratio, is the building allotment that landowners are competing for.)
“We’re unique among the applicants in that half of our portfolio we’ve built up is office/R&D,” said Tim Steele, director of development for Sobrato, at the meeting. “The other half is made up of our apartment buildings – at 50 to 60 units to the acre, that’s probably the right product in the North Bayshore area.”
John Igoe, director of design and construction for Google in Northern California, said the company agreed with the five study areas — which included one of Google’s proposed glass-canopied buildings. And he added one more: the 22 acre block where Google proposed another one of its huge glass-roofed buildings.
Why the change? Both applicants are likely seeing the writing on the wall: That given the 3.4 million square feet of Bonus FAR requests, and only about 2.5 million square feet available, converting some of their proposals to housing could be a way to redevelop land that might not have won out for additional office space anyway.
No housing for LinkedIn: One of the interesting tensions in the housing discussion is whether to study housing on the site LinkedIn is hoping to develop along with SyWest Development. It was originally envisioned for housing before the previous council cut out residential from the precise plan process several years ago; current councilman Ken Rosenberg has suggested at least part of it remain in the mix as a housing site. And Igoe also recommended the land as a study area. That’s something LinkedIn vehemently opposes; the company, which has been battling with Google for land in North Bayshore, says possible toxic issues open the company up to liability (and of course, devoting land for housing would decrease its available office land area). In the end, council members opted not to include the LinkedIn site — called Gateway Commons — in the housing discussion.
The bus yard: One interesting wrinkle at Tuesday’s meeting involved the VTA bus yard on L’avenida Street, which is being offered for sale or lease by VTA. It has already been disclosed that Google is bidding on the site. In response to questions from council members on Tuesday, Igoe said Google envisions the land for office, perhaps a hotel and residential. The latter would require the city to include it in the housing study, but council members opted not to do that because it could increase the cost and timeline of the study.
Density, look and feel: Here’s the marching orders given to consultants: go dense. “As far as density and height? As much as legally allowed,” Rosenberg said. “I think the only way you will get an urban village is if you have an urban look.”
For its part, Google agrees: In a letter submitted to the city, Igoe said Google supports studying “higher densities not seen elsewhere in the city that may approach 140 or 160 or even 200 dwelling units per acre.” That is remarkably dense — high-rise tower dense — and it remains to be seen how feasible and politically palatable such tall buildings would be.
Process: There will be plenty of time for the public to weigh in, including two one-day community workshops on urban design topics and hearings at the planning commission and city council. And a final amendment to the precise plan will take awhile: A schedule included in a city staff report shows it not being adopted until possibly winter of 2017.