Angela Swartz/Daily Journal
Tai Wu at 300 El Camino Real has been the source of frustration for Millbrae residents who say patrons and employees are parking in their neighborhoods.
Millbrae’s new Tai Wu restaurant is getting a chance to clean up its act after a string of complaints from nearby residents about noise and parking, but neighbors simply want the restaurant gone.
The Chinese restaurant at 300 El Camino Real has until the May 19 Planning Commission meeting to build a 7-foot high by 20-foot long wall as a sound barrier and establish long-term parking lot leases. If the commission is unsatisfied with the results, it has the option to not extend Tai Wu’s 90-day temporary occupancy permit, which would shut it down for period of time. The most invasive option is rescinding the conditional use permit, which would cause the restaurant to begin the process of reapplying for the permit.
The three-story dim sum eatery was supposed to have 111 parking spots and valet parking available to customers, but much of the parking is off site and customers tend to park in the nearby neighborhood. Last week, the city issued a cease and desist order to discontinue use of two air intake units that were permitted for installation on the restaurant roof, but were instead installed without permission on the roof of the utility building. Tai Wu appealed and has a public hearing on the appeal 6 p.m. May 16, according to a staff report.
Neighbor Samar Noureddine, who lives behind the restaurant, is not satisfied with the wall solution and said she doesn’t want to have to come back to the Planning Commission again after Tai Wu builds the wall and say she still hears the noise. She described the noise as being similar to someone mowing the lawn 24 hours a day.
“I did not see any of the acoustics engineers come to my backyard to hear any of these sounds fans make,” said neighbor Samar Noureddine. “You put a seven-foot wall and we pretty much don’t have any light; my lemon trees are going dead. It should be on the roof like it’s supposed to be. … I would invite anyone to come into my backyard on a day they don’t know you’re coming.”
The restaurant disagrees. Robert Fong, the owner’s son, said things are improving. An appeal letter from Tai Wu in response to the cease and desist order issued on April 25 states the restaurant is committed to building a good long-term relationship with the city and the adjacent residents.
“We’ve had the units on low for two plus weeks in consideration of the neighbors,” he said. “If we do implement such a wall, it will make it (the sound) unnoticeable. … It was the second we got noise complaints we turned it on to low.”
Parking is the second largest issue the restaurant is dealing with given that members of the Hemlock and Bayside Manor neighborhoods complained about employees and customers parking in front of their homes. At the end of April, the City Council moved to allow expanded preferential parking permits for these neighborhoods. The restaurant is proposing adding spaces at Universal Supply to the north, while also maintaining spaces leased in the parking lots of nearby Burger King and Speedee. The lease with Universal Supply is only month-to-month, so the commission requested a longer-term lease be sought since there would be uncertainty about the long-term availability of the spaces.
Residents wanted to know why the city didn’t consider the parking problems when the restaurant was first approved, said resident Barbara Moreman.
“There’s no room for where people used to park,” she said.
Another restaurant owner named Paul said most of Tai Wu’s customers never park in the designated parking spots and fears a bad accident is going to happen.
There was ample parking, but there were a great deal of spaces patrons and employees did not use, said Planning Commissioner Catherine Quigg. Additionally, the valet service didn’t work since customers were reluctant to pay for parking or to entrust their cars to staff. An April 21 memo to staff asked employees to not park in resident areas, carpool with other employees if they live within a mile of each other, park in designated spots, show proof of using public transportation for a 10 percent discount to family and friends at the restaurant and to be courteous to neighbors.
When things grew tense between Tai Wu representatives and neighborhood members at a Monday night meeting, Planning Commissioner Lorrie Kalos-Gunn said it’s better for each side if they don’t play a tit-for-tat game.”
“It’s about let’s get as much information as quickly as possible,” she said. “It will make the process go much quicker.”
Other issues the city is looking into include seating in excess of the approved limit; strong kitchen and/or trash odors; privacy intrusion from rear windows; noise from a PG&E meter; an enclosure needed for an unsightly fire apparatus; a front sign needing inspection; and parking lot landscaping. Some of these matters have been addressed.
With the proposed changes to the parking and air intake units, Planning Commissioner Jean Joh is hopeful things work out. If the wall option doesn’t work, moving the units back to the restaurant’s roof might be the only option, she said.
“We want to be able to welcome businesses to Millbrae,” Joh said. “They spent a lot of time and money to come here.”
Others still aren’t satisfied. Such a massive restaurant shouldn’t have been approved at this location, said Camille Lopez, a Hemlock resident.
“We can’t just take their word for it,” she said. “The city should supervise everything and make sure the fixes are effective. They (Tai Wu) should not be operational until these issues are effectively resolved. We can’t live like this anymore. We’ve never had issues with any of the other businesses. Why are we catering to them?”
But Kalos-Gunn explained legally, the process requires the restaurant a certain amount of time to make corrections. She acknowledged parking is the biggest issue with the restaurant.
“They needed some time to hear ‘yes you can do this’ or ‘no you can’t do that,’” she said. “The parking situation didn’t work. It’s about educating their customer base about what places are available for parking; they could have a parking attendant. … Who knows? Maybe the new options work fabulously.”
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