Mountain View Voice

Opinion - May 4, 2012

Calming the ruckus over roof-top patio

All the gears of the city's planning and zoning machinery were engaged last week when residents of Old Mountain View raised the specter of being blasted by loud parties on the rooftop patio of a condominium complex under construction between Evelyn Avenue and Villa Street.

The patio was not included in the original plans for the condos, which are owned by Prometheus Real Estate Group. The project was strongly opposed by neighbors who objected to the size and many other aspects of the 202-unit complex on the old Minton's site. But in a roomful of irate residents who showed up at a meeting last week, Zoning Administrator Peter Gilli apologized for not being able to block the patio, saying it was not an architectural change or a commercial use that would require a special permit, so it could not be removed.

And why should it? Certainly Prometheus, and perhaps the city, are at fault for quietly agreeing to install the patio after the plans had gone through the public process, so neighbors had no idea the changes had been made. Nothing illegal was done and even Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association chair David Lewis does not blame the developer, saying the problem is the way the process works when a change is granted after original plans are approved.

"Maybe one of the aspects that come out of this is that rooftop open spaces need some kind of review. Right now (city code) doesn't say that it does," Zoning Administrator Gilli said.

For its part, Prometheus developer Jon Moss said the TV and sound system would be removed from the rooftop plans, while acknowledging that the action wasn't likely to please everyone. Prometheus will allow the deck to be used until 10 p.m. and permit alcohol use, but Moss promised that the company would respond to noise complaints from neighbors and close off access to the deck if necessary — and even go so far as terminating the leases of problem tenants.

The company does have some damage repair to do with at least one City Council member. Jac Siegel claimed that the deck was already built in a "brazen" move to bypass city officials. Gilli did not agree, saying, "I don't believe the applicant purposefully held this back."

Perhaps the council should revise the zoning code so plans for rooftop decks are routinely reviewed.

That would be a good lesson for all parties to take away from this mini-tempest. In a neighborhood that experiences the comings and goings of Caltrain throughout the day and well into the evening, as well as the roar of buses and street traffic, it is not too much to ask for some restrictions on even more noise from rooftop parties. But the likelihood that a small gathering of people on a rooftop 50 feet above the street and at least 300 feet away would destroy the peace and tranquility of a neighborhood is minimal, in our view. Amplified sound and a large TV could have an impact, but without them, it looks to us like Old Mountain View is safe from a noise attack.

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