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Maum restaurant presses pause in Palo Alto

Uploaded: Dec 5, 2016
More than four years after the former downtown Palo Alto Apple Store at 451 University Ave. closed and three years since a Korean restaurant laid claim to the large corner space, the building has sat vacant.

The restaurant owner, Patrick Tsui, unsuccessfully sought to add a rooftop terrace to the building, and after about a year of inactivity, recently withdrew the project, said city planner Sheldon Ah Sing. While the applicant said the rooftop wouldn't add any square footage to the building, the city viewed it as doing so, which would require additional parking under zoning code, Sing said.

Maum, a Korean restaurant with a rooftop terrace, sought to build a rooftop terrace on the former Apple Store in the heart of downtown Palo Alto. Rendering courtesy of City of Palo Alto.

"It's in the downtown parking district so there's a process to get that extra parking and they just couldn't ever do it," Sing said. "That led to quite a long period of inactivity."

The project was a "unique" one for downtown Palo Alto, Sing said, but it simply didn't work with the city's zoning code. The Architectural Review Board's preliminary feedback on the project last March was mostly positive and enthusiastic, though it never moved forward to a formal review.

A large "for lease" sign recently appeared in the building's darkened windows. Jon Goldman of Premier Property Management Inc., the real estate broker for 451 University Ave., wrote in an email that Tsui dropped the rooftop idea and plans to eventually reapply with a "more standard design." He asked Goldman to list the property for sublease for one-and-a-half to two years "while they redo their planning and get approvals, etc."

The space at 451 University Ave. has sat vacant for several years. Photo by Elena Kadvany.

The restaurant, Goldman said, will still be called Maum and serve "contemporary" Korean food. He's had some interest from short-term tenants but the space is still available. At a rental rate of $3.25 per square foot, according to an online listing, the 6,800-square-foot building costs a cool $22,100 per month.

Tsui did not return a request for comment.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by roofdeck, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Dec 5, 2016 at 6:54 pm

No idea whether this spot would have been any good, but another outdoor dining space is always welcome. It's a shame to lose any new restaurant to parking requirements downtown, which is pretty reachable without driving and should only become more so.

Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Dec 5, 2016 at 9:32 pm

Congratulations to Palo Alto for another hamfisted regulatory shutdown of a local small business.

Posted by Marie, a resident of Downtown North,
on Dec 5, 2016 at 11:58 pm

@Davis: I don't think the MAUM was ever local or small.

I also believe that the requirements for adding parking are not limited to placing them below the building, but could be done elsewhere. The reality is that MAUM never wanted it so much to go through the process. This MAUM group obviously has money to waste given the four years of inactivity.

The City should have a limitation the time a place could remain empty. There is a place in the 100 block of University (where the hairdresser now is) that remained empty for more than 10 years because the landlords would not accept anything less than what they wanted.

Posted by Jeff Levinsky, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Dec 6, 2016 at 11:02 am

This is a terrific victory for the rule of law in Palo Alto.

Being in the food section, the article doesn't detail the numerous violations of the municipal code that Maum hoped to get away with. Maum is definitely not local nor small and perhaps thought it could just streamroller over our city's laws. I was one of several residents who pointed out the many proposed violations of parking, traffic, building size, and noise rules to the Architectural Review Board on March 5 last year. As the Palo Alto Daily Post reported the next day, it was shocking that the city planning staff even bothered to bring the proposal forward, given the illegalities.

As just one example, the new roof deck was proposed to have 132 restaurant guests and servers. Yet the project would not have provided a single parking space in the already crowded downtown area for those people, even though the law requires such spaces to be parked.

Here's the full list of code violations we presented:

1. MISSING PARKING: Four onsite parking spaces are credited to the building by the Parking Assessment District but do not exist. Per §18.52.070 of the Municipal Code, the project must provide these spaces or pay in-lieu fees. Yet the staff report does not mention this.

2. CANNOT EXPAND: The building is oversized and per grandfathering rule §18.18.120 (b) cannot increase in height, building envelope, or size in any way. That law says:

(1) Any noncomplying facility existing on August 28, 1986 and which, when built, was a complying facility, may remain as a grandfathered facility and shall not be subject to the provisions of Chapter 18.70.
(2) The grandfathered facilities specified in subsection (1) shall be permitted to remodel, improve, or replace site improvements on the same site, provided such remodeling, improvement, or replacement:
(A) shall not result in increased floor area;
(B) shall not shift the building foot print;
(C) shall not result in an increase of the height, length, building envelope, or any other increase in the size of the improvement;
(D) shall not increase the degree of noncompliance, except pursuant to the exceptions to floor area ratio regulations set forth in Section 18.18.070.

The staff report quotes a different law not specific to Downtown. The project violates the above law in many ways, including:
• Increasing the building height to 42' violates the prohibition on height increases.
• Adding the bar on the roof deck violates the prohibition on increasing the building envelope as well as floor area.
• Adding permanent decking on top of the roof violates the prohibition on increasing the building envelope.
• Adding parapets around the deck technically violates the prohibition on increasing the building envelope and, by making the building look bigger, the prohibition on any other increase in the size.

3. ABUSING ADA EXEMPTION: The building has in the past misapplied ADA exemption rule §18.18.060 (e) and intends to do so again. That law says:

When a building is being expanded, square footage which, in the judgement of the chief building official, does not increase the usable floor area, and is either necessary to conform the building to Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations, regarding handicapped access, or is necessary to implement the historic rehabilitation of the building, shall not be counted as floor area.

The project's violations of this exemption include:
• The building cannot legally expand, so it cannot use this exemption.
• The project is illegitimately claiming that four bathrooms, an elevator, and hallways leading to them are not “usable floor area." Two male and two female bathrooms are required by the California Plumbing Code for a restaurant of this size, so clearly the bathrooms are usable floor area as are hallways leading to them. The elevator will help transport food and supplies. Only space within the bathroom, elevator, and hallways not otherwise usable but required only for handicapped access can be exempted.
• In 2000, this project used this rule inappropriately to exempt 590 sq. ft. �" about 10% of the entire building. That inappropriate use should be corrected in the current remodel to bring the building back into compliance.

4. OTHER MISSING PARKING: Because the project misapplied the ADA exemption in 2000, it was able to avoid providing two other parking spaces. It should now be required to provide those spaces.

5. ROOF DECK WILL IMPACT NEIGHBORHOOD: The roof desk is permitted in the CD district by §18.18.060 (h) (1) (A) (ii), which allows:

Outdoor eating areas operated incidental to permitted eating and drinking services

However, §18.18.060 (h) (1) (B) then states:

Any permitted outdoor activity in excess of 2,000 square feet shall be subject to a conditional use permit.

So the roof deck specifically needs to have a conditional use permit. §18.76.010 (c) (1) covering such permits requires that the activity then:

Not be detrimental or injurious to property or improvements in the vicinity, and will not be detrimental to the public health, safety, general welfare, or convenience

The roof deck lists a capacity of 132 people. Those people will be detrimental to and will injure properties in the vicinity due to:

• Lack of parking: Since the roof deck is not within a downtown building, §18.52.040 requires one parking space per 60 sq. ft., so the unparked deck of 2,551 sq. ft. creates a deficit of 43 parking spaces.
• Traffic: University Avenue and Kipling Street are already very impacted by traffic and 132 customers will make this even worse.
• Noise: Customers on the roof deck will likely be heard at nearby residences even with the partial screening of the second floor area.

Until these issues are fully addressed, the roof deck cannot legally be granted a conditional use permit.

Posted by Michael H , a resident of Professorville,
on Dec 6, 2016 at 12:07 pm

Michael H is a registered user.

We're fortunate to have private citizens like Jeff Levinsky who are willing and able to invest their time and resources to help ensure that the character of the downtown and adjacent residential areas will be maintained. This is what city building codes are all about.

As Jeff's commentary intimated, it's worth asking how and why the city's Planning Department staff ever allowed such a deficient proposal to get as far as the Architectural Review Board . . . especially given the highly visible parking and traffic problems that currently beset Palo Alto especially in and around University Avenue.

Posted by OMG - Not Again, a resident of Gunn High School,
on Dec 6, 2016 at 3:05 pm

Contrary to all of the catalog of issues raised above:

Any tenant in this building will need parking. The existing building has essentially none.

Even eliminating ALL of the alleged increase in building envelope, a restaurant will still need what 40 -50 spaces. The VAST majority of the parking can easily be housed within the underused (after hours) parking structure across the street.

With regard to increasing the building envelope. PLEASE...adding a pedestrian roof surface does not increase the volume of the building structure. Dining outside is a very fun thing and we have the weather in Palo Alto to permit this year round. The parapet was a railing-no need to blow this railing into some sort of substantial structure that increases the building mass, please look at the renderings. The railing's job was to stop you from falling off the roof.

Every occupied building will increase traffic. Having unoccupied buildings is not an acceptable solution to traffic and parking problems. Unoccupied buildings are a blight on the City, devalue adjacent buildings, and harm the neighborhood. If I follow the argument's logic, if we empty all of the buildings on University...then the traffic problem disappears and the neighborhood will be a lively joyful place to live. Cutting off your nose to spite your face.

This is a case of focusing so hard on the letter of the law you miss the nuances of what the planning is trying to do.

Posted by MMQoS, a resident of Professorville,
on Dec 6, 2016 at 3:39 pm

To Joseph Davis:
I suggest you deal with your own city allowing the "shutdown of a local small business." before you start casting negative comments at mine. Did you take any action to contest the closure of the family owned and loved by many Woodside Bakery which your local land lord forced out of town?
And your Woodside Bakery was owned by a local family, not an out of towner like Tsui.

Posted by Too bad, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 6, 2016 at 5:28 pm

I would have liked to eat there. The drawings were attractive and it would be nice to have more outdoor dining space in downtown.

Certainly, it's been sad to see a vacant building for years because the city can't get its act together.Q

Posted by Ugg - what a shame!, a resident of Downtown North,
on Dec 15, 2016 at 2:49 pm

@Jeff Levinsky - so we should thank you for yet another empty storefront rather than a vibrant destination? You don't speak for me...

Our zoning code has language for exceptions that could help make a business like this possible. Creating roadblocks rather than finding creative solutions - not how I want Palo Alto to grow and flourish. We just don't need the "fundamentalist" attitude here. We can do better. Maum would have been a great addition to the fabric of this town. With new garages on the way and more housing close to downtown on the horizon, this should be an easy yes. This is the type of project we should be incentivizing, not turning away.

Posted by MiguNupboure, a resident of Stierlin Estates,
on Sep 28, 2017 at 2:37 am

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