In a difficult meeting Wednesday, Zoning Administrator Peter Gilli said he could not remove a controversial roof-top patio from the Prometheus apartment project downtown, and he apologized to a room full of irritated neighbors.
Old Mountain View neighbors said they had lost trust with the city and the developer over the patio, which was not in plans approved by the City Council for the four-story, 203-unit complex on Evelyn Avenue and Bush Street. Some said they felt "cheated" because they had fought so hard over every detail to lessen the project's impacts on the city, only to learn last week that the patio was quietly added to the project with staff's support a year ago.
The 2,200-square-foot-patio on top of the building's fourth floor would likely mean "noise pollution" from the neighborhood from parties or a TV and music system that will be installed, neighbors said.
In an email to neighbors on Friday, developer Jon Moss of Prometheus Real Estate Group said a TV and sound system would be removed from plans for the patio in light of the complaints, acknowledging that it still wasn't likely to please everyone.
Gilli said the patio itself was not an architectural change or a special commercial use that would trigger a "discretionary permit" so it could not be removed. An allowance for such rooftop patios is also mentioned in the precise plan for the block.
With the patio atop the highest building east of Castro Street, "This should concern everyone east of Castro street," said neighbor Tony Merales. "Sound is going to spread out in all directions. There is nothing that is going to stop it; no buildings, no trees. Sound can travel miles in the right conditions."
"I do clearly think this a situation that has damaged the trust the neighborhood has with the city," Gilli said. "Even if there is no ability to say no to the deck, you all should have heard about it earlier. I want to apologize for that."
Moss had been dealt many criticisms, including council member Jac Siegel, who had claimed that the deck was already built in a "brazen" move. Some suspected that the roof deck plans were hidden from the city until after the City Council's approval.
"I don't believe the applicant purposely held this back," Gilli said. "I believe it was an idea that came up later."
Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association chair David Lewis blamed the city's process.
"Prometheus is not to blame here," Lewis said. "The problem is a process where they go into the city, not the City Council but city staff, and they say they want to do this and no one ever hears about it," Lewis said. "That seems like a very bad process."
Gilli said the noise from the deck would have been studied as part of the project's environmental impact review if it were part of the original plans. He added that city staff had supported the deck as an amenity for the residents, and a way to "reduce congestion" of city parks. But he indicated that city policies did not allow him to make a new decision on the deck.
"Maybe one of the aspects that come out of this is that rooftop open spaces need some kind of review," Gilli said. "Right now (city code) doesn't say that it does."
While he said he doubted that the neighborhood would be affected by noise from a deck 300 feet away, Moss promised that Prometheus would do everything it could to respond to noise complaints from the neighbors, even closing off access to the deck and terminating the leases of problem tenants. He said alcohol would be allowed on the deck, and that it could be reserved for parties. It would close nightly at 10 p.m.
"We have to rely on goodwill," Gilli told neighbors.
OMVNA vice chair Robert Cox said in an email that 115 neighbors had sent emails showing their opposition to the project, and that a committee would be meeting next week to discuss spending $1,000 to appeal the decision to the City Council.