A Palo Alto music school forced out of a church after city officials found its classes are a zoning violation has found a new home at College Terrace Centre.
The New Mozart School of Music, which was among the tenants asked to vacate First Baptist Church at 305 N. California Ave., is relocating to a 2,450-square-foot space on the ground floor at 2100 El Camino Real. Besides College Terrace Market, the school is the first tenant to take retail space at the new center, which opened in spring.
Owner Christine Shin, who had operated New Mozart at the church for 12 years, took a leap of faith and put her home up as collateral to finance the build-out at College Terrace after receiving a notice from code enforcement in early 2016 that the school was not a "permitted use" for the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, which only allows single-family homes as a R-1 zone.
Shin said she tried to work with the city to obtain a conditional-use permit to stay at the church, but the city's planning department denied her application in April, saying the school was a "personal service" rather than a "private education facility." The church site also lacked adequate parking for the school, according to the city.
When the permit fell through, Shin had to decide to move or fold, she said.
"I never thought I'd venture into such a huge liability," said Shin, who will face considerable changes in operating expenses: Rent will be roughly four times what she paid at the church.
But she remains undaunted. On Tuesday, Shin said tenant improvements have begun at the new site and the school could open in late November or December. The new school, which will have a maximum occupancy of 45 persons, includes a group practice area, six individual practice rooms, six offices, a storage room, reception area and two all-gender restrooms. And College Terrace Centre also has underground parking.
Ironically, the music school may miss out on a potential deal between the city and the church's other tenants to stay at their current site. On Monday, Shin said she learned that Palo Alto might consider giving First Baptist a conditional-use permit as a community center. The church would have to meet certain requirements, including for parking, before a permit could be granted, City Manager James Keene suggested during an Aug. 14 City Council meeting.
First Baptist's other tenants include iSing Girl Choir, Tuesday Night Tango, Bisheh Toddler Class, Chinese Global Artist Association, Resounding Achord, Palo Alto Philharmonic, therapists Jill Cooper, Jennifer Merrill, Joellen Werne, Moveable Feet, Stanford Folk Dance and Tango Argentina, many of which have received similar violation notices. Keene has directed staff to allow extensions to tenants who request more time to find a new location, he said.
Shin thinks that community-center zoning for the church would be a plus for everyone.
"It sounds like wonderful news for the church and our programs. I'm really glad the city is looking at more positive solutions. It's a wonderful place for the community. I do believe that to have a place for affordable rent is good for the community," she added.
Shin said New Mozart will remain at the church until the College Terrace location is ready. She might consider keeping a smaller space at the church in addition to the College Terrace building if the church receives a conditional-use permit. But she is committed to moving to College Terrace Centre, which is not far from her previous location, she said.