That is when Merlone Geier threw up a fence in the middle of the night that sealed off businesses along San Antonio Road from the center's parking lot. The action was unannounced and in short order was ruled illegal by the city's zoning administrator, Peter Gilli. But even though the fence is long gone the dispute is far from over, unless the two sides, which include the owners of Barron Park Supply and the International Halal Market, can reach the compromise that Gilli seeks.
The merchants charge that Merlone Geier, which is in the midst of developing more than 16 acres of the center into a mixed-use space of housing, offices and retail, including a new Safeway store, is pressuring them to sell out. The small businesses are located on San Antonio Road and around the corner on California Avenue, and owners are eager to remain independent from the shopping center. And some say Merlone Geier is simply interested in owning all the property out to the street.
It is not yet clear how a compromise can be forged, although Merlone Geier appears to lack much interest in doing anything other than putting up a new 6-foot wrought iron fence. City officials say one property owner may be ready to accept the fence, and Barron Park Plumbing Supply has adequate parking in front of its business. But the proposed fence would block the exit for a driveway at the Halal Market, which could do serious harm.
"It killed my business," said co-owner Mehran Farshad about the cyclone fence that lasted only a few days in May.
In our view, the city should have seen this dispute coming and extracted a compromise from Merlone Geier as a condition of approval, rather than allowing the company to run roughshod over these merchants. The impact of opening a small access alley to Halal Market will not cause substantial harm to the developer. But if the plan for a fence goes forward, it could do great harm to at least one business now, and perhaps even more to the popular Milk Pail Market in 2016, if its agreement to share parking at the Ross store and BevMo parking lot is not renewed in 2016.
Paul Brunmeier, a partner with Charles Riegler at Barron Park Plumbing Supply, told the Voice last week that he believes the fence issue is "...an example of, in my opinion, a bullying tactic by the developer to put existing successful Mountain View businesses in a poor state if not try to force them out of business altogether so they could obtain this land cheaper for their own plans."
Merlone Geier managing director Greg Geertsen in May denied that his company has been putting pressure on the five businesses to accept the company's buyout offers.
"This is not our intent at all," he said. "The intent is to protect our property rights."
Rather than falling back on the "property rights" argument, we would like to see Merlone Geier express a commitment to working out a compromise that will enable all five businesses near the corner of San Antonio and California to maintain their current status.
The old adage "Good fences make good neighbors" could apply here if the fence were adjusted so that all parties could live with it. Otherwise, it will leave a black mark on the shopping center project before it is even completed.