Mountain View’s North Bayshore development approval process becomes focused on the developers’ community benefit offers.
THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN THE ‘Q’ – THE REGISTRY’S PRINT PUBLICATION – IN MAY 2015
Internet giant Google seeks to build a futuristic new headquarters measuring 3.4 million square feet while professional-networking leader LinkedIn wants to construct a regional destination hot spot that mixes office, entertainment and retail venues totaling 1.9 million square feet. Five other developers are also eyeing commercial projects in the same North Bayshore neighborhood.[contextly_sidebar id=”DPMJjrX3vOxozgN0xyQsJHqcrcqSZB2f”]But Mountain View has only so much room to give. The city offers only 2.5 million square feet for commercial building based on its North Bayshore Precise Plan, which guides future growth and development in the area.
“There’s X amount of space that the city will allow, and both companies want all of it,” said Andres Claure, Santa Clara-based senior vice president for the commercial real estate services firm Newmark Cornish & Carey. “It’s a tough play for either side.”
The city asked applicants for their best proposal that produces enhanced community benefits, particularly transportation improvements. Google and LinkedIn are dangling some hefty carrots.
Google’s community-benefits package provides pedestrian-bike bridges, expanded commuter shuttle service, a public safety building, a science center, wildlife habitat enhancements and other amenities in North Bayshore—a value of $200 million. On top of all that, Google would build affordable housing across town on land it owns at 800 E. Middlefield Road.
LinkedIn’s package is substantial as well. Worth an estimated $40 million, it features various transportation enhancements.
While those are the two biggest contenders, they aren’t the only ones.
“It’s an unprecedented time now. We’ve received quite a number of proposals, and many of them are outstanding,” said Martin Alkire, principal planner for the city. The amount of public benefits offered by those looking to build in North Bayshore is “quite extensive,” he added.
A major consideration for the city is what transportation measures the applicants can provide.
“The precise plan lists priority transportation improvements,” Alkire said. “So one key of our review is what transportation improvements might be implemented by those proposals.”
City staff members were still sifting through the proposals in March but expected to take the discussion to the City Council in late April or early May. At that point, Alkire said, the council could signal which proposal or proposals qualify.
Whichever project is ultimately picked can then apply for a planning permit—a process that can take about a year, he said. After that, a project could be deemed approved for construction.
Google’s proposal dwarfs the others in size and vision, featuring undulating domed mini-cities bubbling up from amid lush vegetation, trails and creeks.
“We are proposing to redevelop four sites in the North Bayshore area of Mountain View—places where we already have offices but hope to significantly increase our square footage,” Google said in its plan summary submitted to the city. “Instead of constructing immovable concrete buildings, our plan creates climate-controlled enclosures around flexible ‘building blocks’ that can be moved around easily to create workspaces of different sizes.
“Large, translucent canopies regulate climate, air quality and sound, and are made of lightweight ‘skin’ with solar sensors that track the sun. These canopies blur the boundaries between inside and out, and free indoor spaces from traditional architectural limitations like walls, windows and roofs.”
This sci-fi-ish corporate campus would be ultra eco-friendly, exceeding LEED Platinum certification. Public benefits in this proposal include a new pedestrian-bike bridge from Leghorn Avenue on the south side of Highway 101 to one of the canopied structures, flood protection and an enhanced trail system along Permanente Creek, the expansion of an existing community commuter shuttle system from within the city into North Bayshore and Shoreline Regional Park, a police or emergency-services station, and a habitat for the burrowing owl.
To sweeten the deal with the city even further, Google would build 150 housing units at its East Middlefield property if granted 1.5 million square feet of new net development in North Bayshore. But for every 10,000 square feet given above this level, the company would tack on an additional unit. Most of these units would be below market rate.
“We are committed to working with the community to study potential areas for housing development in North Bayshore and the broader Mountain View area,” Google said in its plan. “While we remain committed to housing in North Bayshore, there is also a need for new residential units in Mountain View, more broadly. A higher level of allowable square footage makes it feasible for us to develop residential units at our 800 East Middlefield site, located a half-mile walk to the (Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority) light rail line.”
LinkedIn’s proposal is also ambitious, aiming to create a vibrant gateway village dubbed Shoreline Commons and anchored by a new company headquarters. It calls for a multiscreen movie theater, an athletic center, cafes, stores, offices and public open spaces, and buildings that achieve at least LEED Platinum standing.
LinkedIn’s public-benefits package includes a pedestrian-bike bridge over Highway 101, other transportation upgrades and even a remodel of the city public library.
“Shoreline Commons is not only about creating a new destination but also about creating new connections,” LinkedIn said in its proposal to the city. “With its pedestrian-bicycle access from the south, including a new bike-pedestrian bridge over Highway 101, broad sidewalks and ‘human scaled’ streetscapes, it will provide Mountain View residents and visitors a remarkable new link to the rich and complex habitats of the San Francisco Bay.”
Google and LinkedIn did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
Other applicants say their plans are significant, as well.
Silicon Valley real estate icon The Sobrato Organization, for instance, is offering community benefits and transportation elements worth $24 million for a 703,148-square-foot high-tech office and research-and-development campus.
The public benefits from Mountain View-based Rees Properties, which is looking to build a 190,876-square-foot office building, are valued at $8.9 million and include habitat restoration, toxic remediation and public-access improvements.
“ … our submittal is powerful in its own right,” Rees Properties President Tom Rees said in an email.
But Louise Mozingo, professor and chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning at University of California, Berkeley, described what’s happening in North Bayshore as going beyond companies competing for development rights.
“Everyone is going to lose—the companies, public jurisdictions and environmental advocates—if they do not sit down and develop a coordinated water and energy efficient plan for densification, land use diversification and public transportation across the Silicon Valley from San Francisco to San Jose and beyond,” Mozingo said in an email.
“This is a dead-serious regional metropolitan planning issue that, if not addressed, will not be able to cope with expected population and job growth and a post-peak water and oil future,” she said. “And the post-peak water future is already here.”