Mtn. View draws "avalanche" of downtown office proposals

Eliza Ridgeway/Town Crier
A former parking lot abutting Castro Street and St. Joseph’s Church on Hope Street is being remade into a four-story complex containing office space, 12 condominium units and ground-floor retail.

Hoping to capitalize on the vibrancy of Mountain View’s downtown core, developers have shown increasing interest in building out the area’s restaurant and retail sites to include office space.

“It almost feels like an avalanche of proposals for office space,” said Robert Cox, who has served for five years on Mountain View’s Environmental Planning Commission, which advises the city council on whether to approve development proposals.

Since January, Castro Street restaurant Fu Lam Mum has been converting its second-floor mezzanine into office space.

More recently, the owners of two popular restaurants on Villa Street, Chez TJ and Tied House, submitted a proposal to replace both of their structures with a four-story building. In a memo to Mountain View’s Downtown Committee last month, the city’s Planning Division reported that the building would include three floors of office space and a new ground-floor restaurant.

The memo also indicated that the city had received informal applications to construct four-story office buildings with ground-floor commercial space at 701 W. Evelyn Ave., where a Subway sandwich shop is now located, and 756 California Ave., currently Dental Fabulous. Informal application status means the projects remain in an exploratory phase intended merely to gauge the reaction of city officials.

With its proximity to public transit, many dining options and pleasant environment, Cox said, downtown Mountain View is a desirable location for employers.

But, he added, additional office construction threatens to bring more workers to the city at a time when the local labor force far outstrips the supply of housing.

“Given the imbalance between jobs and housing,” Cox said, “we need to think about what’s best in the long term.”

The demand for more office space coincides with intensified focus among members of the Mountain View City Council on boosting housing construction. According to Planning Division data, the council has approved projects that would increase the local housing supply by 1,566 units. An additional 958 net new units were already under construction as of March.

City officials are also considering rezoning plans to permit the construction of up to 9,850 residential units in the North Bayshore business district and up to 5,000 additional units in the East Whisman area.

As a member of Mountain View’s Environmental Planning Commission, Cox has observed an increase in the number of applications for new office projects since 2011, when the economy began to bounce back from the recession.

“All development comes in fits and starts,” Associate City Planner Eric Anderson said. “We’re very boom and bust, and we’re kind of in a boom now.”

One project currently under construction will turn a former parking lot at St. Joseph’s Church into a four-story complex containing office space, 12 condominium units and ground-floor retail.

According to last month’s Downtown Committee memo, city officials are also negotiating with a developer on a proposal to construct offices and a hotel a block from the Mountain View Transit Center. Two parking lots currently occupy the site, known as the Hope Street Lots.

In March, the city issued permits for the construction of nine condominium units on an adjacent block. The four-story building will replace three apartment units.

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