Council Deliberates: Grants Prometheus Request for Changes in Zoning

by Deb Keller

On April 27 City Council debated the controversial Prometheus Development of 455 Evelyn Avenue, site of the current Minton’s building supply store. At issue was Prometheus’s request for re-zoning the parcel from 15-25 units/acre to 58 units/acre as well as what to do about BMR (below market rate) units, which were in limbo because of recent court rulings. Council voted 5-2 to grant the developer’s requests.

Mayor Ronit Bryant kicked off Council deliberation with a question about neighborhood preservation: “What does neighborhood preservation mean? Does it mean not changing the neighborhood? Does it mean keeping it exactly as it is today? I don’t think so.”

Siegel commented, “No one says don’t do a project here, and even don’t do high density. But if you do it, do it right.” He cited a litany of issues raised by residents, including inadequate parking, the building not fitting in with the neighborhood, a lack of sufficient park space, and increased traffic.

Siegel noted that the majority of the neighborhood was against the project from the feedback he received. “I don’t know why we aren’t listening to the neighborhood and what they want,” said Siegel.

In contrast, Margaret Abe-Koga said that she did not see a clear consensus for or against the project.

Mayor Bryant and Mike Kasperzak felt that the city needed more apartments in the downtown, with Kasperzak highlighting affordability by pointing out that “the last time I looked you didn’t have to put $300,000 down for the first month’s rent.”

Siegel noted that the city is already proportionately high in apartments at 55-58% compared to 33% in other cities on the Peninsula. In addition, Siegel claimed that the developer told him that they expect an annual turnover rate of 50%. “To me this doesn’t sound like the Old Mountain View I’ve been hearing about—being friendly, knowing your neighbors…It’s more like a long-stay hotel” except the city does not benefit by collecting hotel taxes.

John Inks defended changes in zoning saying that Council frequently amends Precise Plans, citing as an example the Tech Farm on the north side of Evelyn Avenue adjacent to the train tracks, noting that several variances were granted and that the building height was 4 feet higher.

Both Kasperzak and Abe-Koga argued that higher density would make a grocery store viable. Abe-Koga said that the community was currently at 3400 residences and needed 4000 to 5000 to a support a grocery store.

Regarding concerns with traffic and parking, Siegel felt that many of the assumptions of the traffic study were questionable. Tom Means and Inks defended the study, and Means felt that Council should show more respect for the data and the work of staff.

Council granted all of the developer requests, going against the Environmental Planning Commission’s 4-1 vote not to grant the variances.

Siegel said, “This is not a compromise. This is not even close to a compromise. Instead there seems to be so much more concern for the developer to make money.”

Laura Macias concurred and wondered “what the great advantage to the city is …to change the rules for the developer and the current property owner….Is it the role and responsibility of the city to ensure that the developer and the owner earns the most revenue on a property?

Demolition is slated to begin in September, and construction in Summer 2011.

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