Millbrae’s new Tai Wu restaurant has until June 16 to fix a string of issues, including noise and parking problems, but nearby neighbors and other residents say the restaurant should be held accountable now for code violations.
The Chinese restaurant at 300 El Camino Real needs to come up with two alternatives for fixing sound issues associated with the air intake units on the roof of the utility building. One option is coming up with a good plan to mitigate the sound, while another would be a proposal to move the units to where they were originally supposed to be placed — on the actual rooftop. The restaurant also needs to work on making the setup more aesthetically pleasing, the Planning Commission said. From there, the city could consider options such as rescinding the restaurant’s conditional use permit.
“They’ll look into cost, design and determine how hard that’s going to be,” said Planning Commissioner Jean Joh.
Since the Planning Commission’s last meeting the restaurant built a 7 foot high by 20 foot long wall sound barrier to reduce noise from its air intake units that are on the roof of the utility building. Neighbors are still unhappy with the sound and how the units look.
“Putting up that 7-foot wall, not only is it horrendous looking, but we can still hear that noise,” said Neighbor Samar Noureddine, who lives behind the restaurant. “We need to know there are codes in Millbrae that need to be upheld, otherwise we don’t know if life without any issues will be withheld. Property values go down and businesses can’t be guaranteed what goes for one can be guaranteed for another. Really consider putting the units up on the roof. Why are we making exceptions?”
The units do not make the building look good, agreed Planning Commissioner Catherine Quigg. Regardless, it’s hard to say if it’s a code violation since the units are on a small roof of the utility building, but not the building’s main roof.
“It’s not an attractive building anymore,” she said. “To me that temporary wall is just detracting from the building.”
Little steps are not enough to solve the issue and the units should go where they were originally designed to be located, said Hemlock resident Christina Tucote.
Still, Planning Commissioner Andrew Baksheeff said he sat for 20 minutes on Saturday in the alley behind the restaurant and heard no noise from the units.
“I want to be specific — the gas meter definitely makes noise,” he said. “Twenty feet from the building, the wind from the trees knocked down that noise. I’d like to know these units are the ones that sound like a motorboat all day, or did someone turn on the AC on the fourth floor of the hotel?”
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 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.
The restaurant proposed 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 comes with a two-month unilateral decision from Universal Supply on whether to continue the lease, so the commission requested a long-term lease be sought since there would be uncertainty about the long-term availability of the spaces.
“We’re continuing to evaluate parking,” said Joh. “The unilateral decision with Universal Supply would not be acceptable.”
The commission did go out on a limb by approving multiple parking locations for Tai Wu, Baksheeff said.
“We want to make it better for the city as a whole,” he said.
Meanwhile, the owner of a lot at 480 El Camino, the former site of the startup FlightCar, has offered up his space for lease to Tai Wu, as it is adjacent to Universal Supply. The commission has advised the restaurant owners to consider that space, but the restaurant owners aren’t sure if they can afford the space.
Some Millbrae residents simply came to the meeting to speak about their concerns about how the handling of issues reflects on the city.
“It’s mind-boggling to a number of us residents what’s going on here,” said Jack Warner who has lived in Millbrae for 50 years. “This doesn’t affect me, but it affects our city.”
Others came out in support of more business in Millbrae, noting that a parking garage someday would help alleviate the problems.
“I’m happy to see more restaurants in Millbrae,” said resident Allen Lee. “I know parking is an issue, but parking is a problem even without Tai Wu or with Tai Wu. ... I’m afraid with all this trouble here all the business people are afraid to come into Millbrae. We need to follow the rules, but not with too many restrictions.”
Tai Wu has stated it wants to work on making things better with the city and its residents. 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.
Still, neighbors say those speaking out in favor of Tai Wu don’t live in the neighborhood, including Hemlock resident Ed Jarvis. Jarvis wants to see long-term plans to solve parking issues in Millbrae to support economic growth.
“I’ve noticed in the last two weeks parking has improved,” he said. “The employees have instructed people not to park in unapproved spaces, but we need a more long-term solution.”
Other unresolved issues the city is looking into include seating in excess of the approved limit; strong kitchen and/or trash odors; and an enclosure needed for an unsightly fire apparatus. Other issues have been resolved such as frosting rear facing windows for more privacy. A follow-up inspection by staff confirmed 100 percent of each of the three second-floor windows are frosted and the lower 60 percent of each of the three third floor windows are frosted. An enclosure was also approved around the reportedly noisy PG&E meter, while a front Tai Wu sign was approved and a parking lot landscaping plan with drip irrigation was also approved.
The issues will next be on the Planning Commission’s June 16 agenda at 7 p.m. at Council Chambers, 621 Magnolia Ave. in Millbrae.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105