It was a tough series of trade-offs over trees, parking and environmental health, but Mountain View City Council voted 4-2 on Tuesday to approve a major infill development that includes hundreds of units housing in an existing apartment complex.
The move marks the end of a long saga for 555 W. Middlefield Road, a project that worked its way through the planning process for seven years. Proposed by developer AvalonBay Communities, the project has undergone several major revisions and met with its fair share of opposition, both from residents of the apartment complex and those living nearby.
The main concern of those opposing the project was that it would create heavy construction impacts for tenants of the 402 existing apartments on the property to build 323 new units, which will be added onto the current surface parking lots. It is expected that the work will raise particles, especially dust, which would reach unhealthy levels.
While one of the biggest benefits of the project is the developer’s intention to build around rent-controlled apartments instead of razing them for a complete redevelopment, it also poses some of the biggest challenges. Current residents will face seven years of construction, and a suite of perks, including air filters and upgraded windows, have done little to allay current tenants’ concerns.
“I won’t be able to live through seven years of construction, dust, noise and stress,” said resident Elizabeth Munoz. “We all deserve to live in a peaceful place.”
Opponents also denounced the loss of 51 heritage trees, which would be felled in order to build additional houses and underground parking. Over the many years that the project has been mired in the development process, the number of trees on the log has changed dramatically, always reducing the total planned for removal. At one point, 117 heritage trees were set to be felled, which was reduced earlier this year to 62.
After City Council restrained after approving the plan to give the developer one more try to save more trees, the latest version came back with a proposal to lose 51 heritage trees. This required a significant compromise and necessitated a parking reduction of 44 spaces.
Despite efforts to soften the blow, the majority of the dozens of speakers at the May 10 meeting still opposed the project, largely over air quality issues and loss of trees. Resident Kristine Keller expressed concern about the adverse environmental effects of the loss of tree cover and a protective buffer from pollutants and noise from State Route 85, which is directly is of the project.
“They are our climate warriors and our sound buffers for our entire community,” Keller said.
Gita Dev, speaking on behalf of the local Sierra Club, said her organization supports infill development, but only when it is ‘nature-friendly’, calling trees to be felled an important part of the canopy. and biodiversity. corridor that connects the bay to the hills.
“Ecosystems and natural communities are not simply assets that can be owned, destroyed or damaged,” she said.
The position differs significantly from the Sierra Club’s previous position on cut down hundreds of redwoods in North Bayshore.
Other intervenors argued that Avalon has done what it can to reduce project impacts time and time again, and that the city cannot keep moving the goalposts and demanding more from the developer. Resident Salim Damerdji said the community is no better served by the city when housing development takes seven years to cross the finish line, and that these last-minute changes – like requiring a trade-off between parking and the trees – indicate that the city doesn’t even know what it wants and hasn’t made its expectations clear from the start.
“When you put in hurdle after hurdle for new housing, you make new housing more expensive. When you do extortion after extortion of a project, you make housing more expensive,” Damerdji said. “I understand that all of this micromanagement is well intentioned, but it hurts the community. And I honestly think it’s embarrassing.”
For some residents opposed to the project, there was a sense that Avalon cannot be trusted to alleviate poor air quality and provide tenants with the information and support they will need to get through the lengthy construction phases. In recent months, residents of the apartment complex have complained of being blindsided by efforts to remove asbestos from current buildings and of feeling unsafe in and around their homes. City officials say air quality regulators monitor Avalon’s work and ensure health and safety, and tenants have been offered arrangements to temporarily vacate homes when asbestos work are in class.
Avalon is proposing to relocate elderly tenants, families with children, and people with medical conditions to another apartment complex in the area (also owned by Avalon) to distance them from the impacts of construction. Those who want to walk away from construction by terminating their lease will not have to pay termination fees.
Mayor Lucas Ramirez said the project has a lot to offer despite some of the downsides, including 48 affordable units, a 1.3-acre park and millions in community charitable funds. Overall, he said the merits of the project outweighed the impacts. Councilor Pat Showalter said the developer complied with a late request in February to save trees by reducing parking, and said it was important that rent-controlled apartments remain in place.
Councilor Margaret Abe-Koga opposed the project and said she fears people are taking air quality impacts too lightly and how they will affect nearby tenants and residents on the site. . She worries that even if the project doesn’t displace anyone, people will wait six months to two years before moving because they are “miserable” with the construction.
Although Avalon has made concessions to mitigate the impact of particulates caused by construction and will preserve some trees, Abe-Koga said she believes the project as proposed should never have been lit to go through the planning process, and is basically not a good fit.
“I believe from the start it could have been done better,” she said.
Councilwoman Lisa Matichak took a similar stance, pointing out that the city’s general plan and master plan for housing growth in Mountain View did not envision increasing density on the property. She also said that the downsides of the development are still too great.
“That’s still a lot of trees that are proposed to be cut down,” she said.
Council voted 4-2 to approve the project, with Mayor Ramirez and Showalter council members Sally Lieber and Alison Hicks in favor. Abe-Koga and Matichak opposed the project, and Councilwoman Ellen Kamei was absent.