City asked to allow roof decks downtown

Daily Post Staff Writer

Home design startup Houzz wasn’t allowed to build a roof deck at its downtown Palo Alto headquarters, so it’s asking City Council on Monday to loosen city zoning rules on raising the roof.
The five-story building that Houzz leases space in is at 285 Hamilton Ave, across the street from City Hall. The city’s Development Center leases space in the 46-year-old building with Houzz.

On Monday, council will discuss the idea of allowing roof decks on buildings that are currently considered too tall, or to have too much floor space, for these additions. At more than 82 feet tall and with a floor area of 45,585 square feet, 285 Hamilton Ave. surpasses the current height and floor space limits in the Downtown Commercial, or CD, district, to build the 2,650-square-foot roof deck Houzz has planned.

If the council approves the idea, downtown could see more roof decks, and possibly more vibrant nightlife, pop up.

In an Aug. 23 letter to Assistant Planning Director Jonathan Lait, James Walgren, a spokesman for Houzz, suggested the city use the Houzz building as a test case for roof decks and re-evaluate in a year.



Walgren recommended that the ordinance only apply to specific tenants and owners, not other commercial uses like restaurants that would increase parking demand.

Any roof deck patio height exemptions wouldn’t apply to downtown buildings that are next to residential neighborhoods, protecting people’s privacy at home, Walgren suggested.

In a report to council, City Manager Jim Keene agreed, writing that roof decks near residential areas, especially single-family homes, would be “inappropriate.”

Keene notes that roof decks could offer a “nice amenity” to building occupants for employee events and outdoor lunch space. The decks may result in building upgrades that would make older buildings more attractive and valuable.

It’s also possible, Keene writes, that neighbors could be impacted by noise, light, privacy and parking concerns, but said that these issues could be limited by rules and Architectural Review Board evaluations.

The council will discuss the idea in a study session, but won’t be taking action on Monday.