|City code enforcement is growing impatient with Charles Gardyn.
His 1946 building, a landmark retail center at the corner of Rengstorff Avenue and Old Middlefield Way, is so full of code violations that little can be done except to tear it down and start over, according to the city attorney's office. The roof is weak, illegal structures have been added onto the rear and electrical work was done without permits.
Gardyn disagrees that his building is a problem, but in response to the pressures from City Hall, he says he is going to redevelop it. The city, meanwhile, says that line is wearing thin.
"We're running short on patience because we have been hearing that for two years," said city attorney Michael Martello.
The building's La Costena Taqueria, a small eatery behind the La Costena store, has been there for decades and is well known by burrito lovers -- in fact, the owners say it's been voted best burrito in the Voice's "Best of Mountain View" competition for eight years running. It also claims to hold a world record for largest burrito.
Next door is a jewelry store, Jennifer Joyeria, and the Rosa Maria hair salon. The building also has apartments upstairs, which makes the code problems more urgent in the city's eyes.
Still, it doesn't seem that customers of La Costena will be happy with a new building. For 19-year-old Sam Weiss, the quirky old structure brings character to the neighborhood.
"Otherwise everything just looks the same," Weiss said as he ate a burrito with friends on one of the outdoor benches last Friday. (Due to lack of parking, the city has not allowed tables inside the restaurant.)
"I've been searching all my life for the best burrito place," said Will Mars, also 19. "Now they want to take that away from me?"
"They will probably bring in a chain restaurant or something," speculated Weiss.
With a look of disgust, Mars said, "Imagine if they brought in a Chipotle."
Gardyn notes that the building was built two years before the city's first building code in 1948, but Martello, who runs city code enforcement out of his office, says the building needs major infrastructure improvements. Under city code, the old building cannot have its "useful life" extended, Martello said, and it is not protected as a historic building.
"I'm not going to fight City Hall," Gardyn said about the pressure to demolish the building. "If that's what they want it's not really a choice."
Recently, code enforcement decided "enough was enough," Martello said, and one of the building's longtime tenants, tax accountant Octavio Barboza, was told by the city that he had to leave. Office uses are not allowed in the area's "Commercial Service" or CS zone, and Barboza's office was an illegal add-on which could block exits during an emergency, Martello said. City Council member Jac Siegel said he agreed with that assessment after taking a tour.
Gardyn said it didn't have anything to do with safety, and showed the Voice documents Barboza was given by the city mentioning only the CS zone restrictions against office space.
Gardyn says he has received many phone calls for redevelopment of the building but so far nothing has moved forward. He said that thanks to the CS zone, which was designed to encourage industrial services and supply stores, the city has too many restrictions on what uses are allowed for the site.
What sort of development would be allowed at the site is uncertain, and may be up to the council to decide during the city's general plan update. Gardyn and other property owners are petitioning the city to loosen up zoning along Old Middlefield Way, which could make redevelopment of his corner property more profitable, or at least more feasible.
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