938 and 954 Villa Street: Proposal to Relocate the Weilheimer House

On November 28th, the Council provided additional input on a proposal to remove two historic buildings in the downtown area and replace them with a four-story office building and ground-floor restaurant. Despite significant public support for preserving the Weilheimer House (currently occupied by the restaurant Chez TJ) in place, the Council voted 4-3 to allow the House to be relocated to nearby 1012 West Dana Street, currently the site of a four vacant housing units. The vote allows the developer, The Minkoff Group, to proceed with the redevelopment proposal. The Weilheimer House will become private property and be restored to its original use – as a single-family home.

The Council also provided early feedback on the design of the new building and on parking requirements. A majority did not support retaining and incorporating the façade of the Tied House building into the new development. Additionally, the Council directed staff to use the Downtown Precise Plan parking requirement calculations for the project. Under the Precise Plan requirements, the developer would need to provide 27 more parking spaces than they would otherwise have to under an older, conflicting agreement that the City made with the property owner in 1988. Under that agreement, the property owner agreed to pay the City $243,000 in lieu of providing 27 parking spaces. The agreement stipulated that the In-Lieu Fee payment reduces any future parking requirement on this site by 27 parking spaces. However, the parameters of this agreement were never incorporated into the Downtown Precise Plan.

Affordable Housing Strategy & Modifications to the Below-Market-Rate (BMR) Program

Also on November 28th, the Council confirmed the direction provided during a September 12th study session on affordable housing. The Council affirmed an investment strategy for affordable housing funds, which will be used to construct housing for low-income people and permanent supportive housing for homeless individuals; a strategy to provide housing for the “missing middle” (middle-income families); and a strategy to provide additional opportunities for homeownership.

Additionally, the Council directed staff to immediately modify the City’s Below-Market-Rate (BMR) Affordable Program. The BMR Program requires that 10% of units in market-rate residential development be affordable to low-income people. The City’s BMR Program went into effect in 1999, but a state appellate court decision (Palmer v. The City of Los Angeles, often referred to as the “Palmer decision”) rendered the Program unenforceable, and it was suspended in 2009. However, earlier this year, Governor Brown signed AB 1505 (called the “Palmer Fix”) into law. AB 1505 allows cities to enforce inclusionary housing ordinances, like Mountain View’s BMR Program.

Council approved a two-step modification of the BMR Program. First, the affordable housing requirement will be increased from 10% to 15% of both rental and ownership units in new residential developments. The Program will also allow developers to propose an “alternative mitigation” in lieu of providing units. This could include dedicating land for a future affordable housing project, paying a fee, or some other option. Second, City staff will begin a longer-term comprehensive update of the Program.

The Council noted that residential projects in the pipeline will be significantly affected by this update. Council directed staff to identify a reasonable threshold for exempting projects that are close to project approval.

— Lucas Ramirez, Observer