Can city make itself cool again by allowing rooftop decks? Majority of council thinks so

Above is a photo of Perry’s, a hip rooftop restaurant in the Washington, D.C., neighborhood of Adams Morgan. Photo from Perry’s Facebook page.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto could help make itself “cool again” by loosening zoning rules and allowing rooftop decks on tall buildings, Councilman Adrian Fine said, although the idea drew mixed reviews yesterday (Nov. 27) from his colleagues.

The discussion arose as City Council considered whether to allow a rooftop deck on top of the five-story building that home design startup Houzz leases at 285 Hamilton Ave., across the street from City Hall.

Five of the nine council members expressed interest in considering changing the city’s zoning code to allow rooftop decks on buildings taller than 50 feet.

Fine said allowing such amenities might attract high-quality companies to the city. He also said that allowing roof decks on buildings taller than 50 feet high would actually help beautify the city, not hurt it.

“What do we think is better? A roof with (air-conditioning) units or a roof with people on it?” Fine asked.

Fine, along with Mayor Greg Scharff, Vice Mayor Liz Kniss and Councilman Greg Tanaka all expressed interest in considering rooftop decks.

Councilman Cory Wolbach also was interested in the idea but listed four concerns that he wishes to look into further — noise, safety, privacy and traffic.

Council members Karen Holman, Lydia Kou, Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth were opposed to the idea.

Holman said while she understands why Houzz would want to have a rooftop deck, she is concerned about aesthetics and safety. Holman added that she also was worried about the noise affecting business at the nearby Cardinal and Epiphany hotels.

But Scharff said that with some regulation, the noise likely wouldn’t be any more of an issue than it is for Lytton Plaza.

“This isn’t New Orleans-style restaurants we’d be having up there and I don’t think we’d be allowing the Old Pro to have a roof deck,” Scharff said. “It’ll be employees up there eating lunch and working on their laptops.”

No big parties planned

Houzz representative Barbara Simmons said the deck would be a place for employees to go during the workday, and would not be used to squeeze all 400 or so employees of Houzz onto the roof for a party.

DuBois, Kou and Filseth all questioned why the council was even discussing the topic.

“We’ve spent more than an hour on this and it seems like a very low priority on our list,” DuBois said.

While supporters of the idea say that it could provide some needed open space for the employees in the Houzz building, others countered that the decks are not what people think of when they think of open space.

“If this is true open space, then will we be building over parks and have a rooftop garden on top (of the building) and then say this is a park?” Kou said.

Height rules

Council members against the idea also said the building is already 82 feet tall. The building was constructed in 1974, before council approved the 50-foot height limit. Currently, buildings under 50 feet can have rooftop decks.

Houzz had suggested that the company’s request could serve as a pilot program for buildings taller than 50 feet. However, Wolbach, Scharff and Tanaka all expressed interest in divorcing Houzz’ application from the discussion of changing the city’s zoning code for rooftop decks on tall buildings. So the two topics will likely come back separately before council sometime next year