Mountain View Council to consider San Antonio Vision further before inviting Merlone Geier back

At last night’s meeting, the Mountain View City Council reviewed and accepted the results of the community visioning process for the San Antonio area, with strong agreement about a mix of uses with continued retail, plus office, homes and services; public spaces; breaking down the superblock and creating a finer grid with pedestrian and bike connections; an interesting visual streetscape, with more trees and without blank building walls; but strong differences of opinion about desired density.

But looking at the results of the visioning sessions and surveys, which were clear in a variety of areas but quite general – Council decided that they needed at least one more meeting before bringing Merlone Geier to present their next iteration of the development.  In March, City Council will hold a study session to further focus priorities resulting from the visioning process.

Last year, when the Council accelerated the precise plan for the San Antonio area – and put the second phase of the large proposed Merlone Geier development on hold – they took the unconventional step of expecting to guide the development only with the results of the visioning process.   Ordinarily, developments would be guided by a full Specific Plan, which defines needed public infrastructure, land use guidelines, parking and trip reduction requirements, and terms for developers to contribute to public facilities. But the full Specific Plan is expected to take two years, and Council did not feel comfortable making the developer wait that long to resubmit their proposal.

Some residents and Council members raised questions about just how the results of visioning would actually serve to guide a developer to create developments that address the vision. Some of the key areas of consensus were better pedestrian and bicycle connections through the area, and public spaces.  Does Mountain View want to hand to the developer the job of designing the circulation and public areas, with very high level instructions, and then see if the results address the city’s intent? If Mountain View hasn’t yet set the rules for developer contribution to the public infrastructure, what can they expect this developer to contribute?

Density is another area where ambiguity may lead to unwelcome results.  The General Plan zoned the area for up to 6-8 stories, which is less than the suspended first-draft proposal that called for twelve story building and two 9-story buildings, but higher than some neighbors would prefer.   If the resubmitted proposal defaults to the new General Plan heights, will people who participated in the Visioning process and preferred less density feel the result was fair? If the City does not give clear guidelines about trip reduction and parking policies, will supporters of dense transit-oriented development be confident that the project will make use of the nearby transit?

Based on yesterday’s decision, there is now another study session coming in March, where Council can refine the conclusions of the Visioning process, and also grapple with the question about how well it will work to guide the developer with a vision rather than a full Precise Plan with land use and circulation requirements.

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