The City Council imposed strict new regulations on Pleasanton Masons Tuesday after considering complaints from their Valley Trails neighbors of excessive noise and outdoor partying at their lodge on Hopyard Road.
Strengthening already tough new restrictions recommended by the city’s Planning Commission, the council voted unanimously to order the Masons to shutter French doors leading from the lodge to a backyard patio, banning any use of the north side backyard.
The ruling, which is part of a revision of a conditional use permit granted to the Masons in 1977, came after a two-hour public hearing on an appeal by the Masons to overturn the Planning Commission’s June decision.
That the council’s hearing was held at all was puzzling since the Masons are moving to another location, selling their building to Rabbi Raleigh Resnick and his Chabad of the Tri-Valley, a Jewish organization. Resnick, who addressed the council at the start of the hearing, said the building will be used for religious, education and social purposes. He expects to close the sale within three weeks.
At that time, according to Gerry Beaudin, the city’s director of Community Development, Resnick and the Chabad will have to submit a new request for a permit to use the building, a process that will start the public hearing process all over again.
The Chabad, a fast-growing organization considered a dynamic force in Jewish life, has expanded since Resnick and his wife Fruma started the Tri-Valley branch. After nine years of using rooms in various facilities around the area, the Chabad center last year moved into a 4,000- square-foot building on Quarry Lane. The Masonic Lodge will offer the additional space it needs for its main activities.
In making its decision, the council referred to a voluminous 100+ page document containing complaints by neighbors and city documents dating back to the 1990s. The document also contains pages of background information that city staff spent hours preparing for the council meeting, again knowing that the building was being sold.
Except for Resnick’s comments, there was little mention of the Masonic Lodge's sale at Tuesday night’s hearing. Instead, the discussion centered on complaints by Michael and Darlene Miller, whose Bryce Canyon Court home backs onto the Masons’ property, and their attorney Stuart Flashman. The Millers have been the principle complainers of large and noisy parties held over recent years by the Masons.
At issue was a conditional use permit issued to the Masons in 1977 prior to the completion of the Masonic Center building in 1980. The permit did not specify or elaborate upon the intended uses of the site other than the operation of a Masonic centers.
The Millers told council members that the backyard noise problem started in 2009 after the city issued a permit to the Masons to add the French doors. Those provided an easy access to the backyard which was always intended, according to the 1977 conditional use permit, to serve as a buffer the homes on Bryce Canyon Court.
Ever since, the Millers said, the backyard has been used for noisy parties, including by non-Mason groups that rented the building for meetings and entertainment.
Twenty-two speakers addressed the council Tuesday night, most of them Masons who talked about their organization, its support of the community and its charitable work nationally.
With regard to the Millers’ complaints, Masons said they have been unsuccessful in meeting with the couple to mitigate any problems they were having.
Several Masons also criticized Pleasanton Weekly stories about the city staff-prepared document listing a series of complaints starting with an event was hosted by Allstars Entertainment on May 31, 2008, when Pleasanton police responding to reports of gunshots and encountering 100 people gathered in the Mason's parking lot. They said the reports are inaccurate.
They also said that the council’s order to stay out of the backyard “for any reason” will limit their outside activities to the front sidewalk and a parking lot they share with St. Clare’s Episcopal Church.
Their pleas won one bit of relief from the new restrictions first recommended by the Planning Commission and city staff.
Councilman Arne Olson said that while he agreed with restricting outside uses, the proposal to make the Masons shut down inside activities by 9 p.m. was too strict. He proposed making the closing hours at 11 p.m., which others on the council accepted.
The new rules go into effect immediately and will last as long as the Masons own and occupy the building – or, according to plans, for at least another three weeks.