News - July 20, 2011

Mark Sweyer to open 25-seat cafe in Woodside

• Gilberts oppose the plan, but council OKs permit.

by Dave Boyce

Woodside has no traffic signals, but Mark Sweyer, co-owner of the Woodside Bakery & Cafe, did get a green light on his plans to convert a nearby one-story office building at 2989 Woodside Road to a 25-seat cafe that will feature cooking classes, banquet space and coffee roasted on site and brewed by the cup.

In the July 12 ruling, a unanimous Town Council — absent members Peter Mason and Dave Tanner — denied an appeal by William and Lee Ann Gilbert, who own the adjacent property and the Pioneer Hotel saloon. The Gilberts wanted the project scaled back, saying that its scope of activities was too ambitious for the close quarters and the perennially tight parking situation downtown.

The 1,278-square-foot future cafe is nestled in the row of one-story buildings across Woodside Road from the bronze horses on Village Hill.

The council's action affirms the Planning Commission's granting to Mr. Sweyer a conditional use permit. The permit will allow the sale of beer and wine (with a state license) and no more than three cooking classes per month for no more than 10 students per class, during which time the cafe will be closed, according to a staff report.

Mr. Sweyer must also install an outdoor hitching post and re-stripe the parking lot. He is dedicating one parking space to bicycles. The bike racks will be two steel cables stretched tight the length of the space and meant for around 20 bikes. The bikes hang on the cable and allow compact security without paint damage, architect Stevan Patrick, the project designer and a principal at Midglen Studio Associates in Woodside, told the Almanac.

Mr. Patrick said the idea came to him after talking with people who've been to bike races, where impromptu bike racks made from tightly stretched spans of rope are common.

Lovable ideas

"I think what's happening here with this project and how it's gotten so far in this process is because there are so many lovable ideas," Ms. Gilbert told the council. "What is not lovable to my husband and me ... is what we believe will surely be an assault on our parking."

The new cafe will sit next to the commercial Gilbert Center, which has private parking. Mr. and Ms. Gilbert expressed concern that cafe parking will almost certainly overflow its allotted 10 spaces, and that employees will park in the public lot in back.

The public parking lot is of interest to the Gilberts because they contributed some $800,000 over 25 years in a partnership to help convert dusty and/or muddy fields into paved parking for about the same number of vehicles that patronize the three partners, Town Manager Susan George said in an email. The other partners in the parking assessment district were the town and the Village Pub.

The proposed cafe parking "looks like a disaster" and "is unfair to those who paid into the district," Ms. Gilbert told the council. "Parking is a big deal," she added. "We do battle out there every day."

And bike racks, though rare in a town visited by scores of cyclists every day, should not be concentrated at the cafe but distributed, including at Roberts market and Mr. Sweyer's bakery, Ms. Gilbert said.

"I, for one, don't want to attract more bicyclists here until people figure out how to accommodate them," she added. "The intent of this applicant is to attract that kind of patronage."

Mr. Sweyer let Mr. Patrick respond to the complaints. Support for the cafe came from an audience that filled the council chambers.

"The proposed cycle storage is a very welcome thing," said former resident and History Committee member Keith Simon.

"We all need to learn to share, share the roads, share the space," said resident Pat Del Gavio.

"There needs to be controls on a phenomenon that has gone too far," Mr. Gilbert responded, alleging that he has seen cyclists sprawled on horse trails having picnics and, at times, urinating in inappropriate places.

Council comments

Council members found the cafe proposal to be within the rules set for commercial establishments, though Councilwoman Anne Kasten did call the parking space alignment "jaw-droppingly horrible," suggesting that it echoed the lot at Draeger's Supermarket in Menlo Park, which she said she finds inconveniently angled.

The turning ratios are accurate, Mr. Patrick said. "It does work."

"It works on paper," Ms. Kasten replied. "I'm asking for something functional. I see a lot of problems. ... It seems to be a lot of stuff going on in a not very big space."

"That's true," Mr. Patrick said.

"It's a big venture and there's going to be a lot of pressure on the business owner to get it right, to do it right," Councilwoman Sue Boynton said. She added that while she was not concerned with overflow parking "at this point," the cafe could be a trigger for a future discussion of the issue in general, an idea that the council seemed to like.

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