Plans to convert what was once a funeral home into a private club for female workers are getting mixed reviews from the shuttered Palo Alto mortuary's neighbors, with some saying it would be a welcome addition and others saying it would only add to parking, traffic and noise problems currently plaguing their neighborhood of Professorville.
Now-former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer bought Palo Alto's oldest funeral home, Roller & Hapgood & Tinney, five years ago, but it was not clear at the time what she would do with the property. Plans revealed last week detail the conversion of the building at 980 Middlefield Road into the private club, which would offer working spaces, networking events, speaker series, conference rooms, a small gym, a gallery, coffee and snacks.
Dubbed "The Corner House," the new venue's mission would be to "provide a vibrant, welcoming space for traditional and non-traditional professionals to collaborate, work, learn, find support, build community, and spend time with their families, friends and neighbors."
According to the application, there would be about 150 members and guests using the site at any given time, though up to 400 people would be expected to show up for special events. Classes in music, performing arts, cooking, professional development, dance and fitness would be offered, along with outdoor events with amplified sound.
The club would be required to cease outdoor operations by 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and by 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Carina Rossner, who lives on nearby Webster Street, said the private club would not benefit the residential neighborhood. It is unlikely that many people in the neighborhood would be able to afford to join the club, she said.
"If you are asking for the favor of a (city) variance there needs to be a clear benefit to the community," she said, referring to the "planned community" zoning that requires the development to include a "public benefit."
She further asked if there is such a benefit, would it outweigh the impacts?
The club would be located next to low-income apartments where residents would derive no benefit and have already been impacted by noise from previous events held there, she said.
The neighborhood would be better served by an organization such as the now-closed Deborah's Palm, which was located on Lytton Avenue in Downtown North and offered services that were available to everyone, she said.
"As a working mother, I would love to be part of that," Rossner said of joining a women's group open to all.
The neighborhood would also be better served by a preschool, given the proximity to Addison Elementary School across the street, she said.
The area already has much traffic and parking from Addison Elementary. Construction at the school is already causing significant problems, she said.
Mayer has already faced criticism over her use of the shuttered mortuary. A year after she bought the property, Mayer hosted a lavish Halloween party at the site. One neighbor posted an open letter to her in 2014, asking her to refrain from doing so in the future.
"Your neighbors, your community, your friends have had to deal with some of the saddest and hardest experiences in their lives, in the exact spot where you will now be celebrating," the anonymous letter stated. "Not only is it disrespectful to the memory of our loved ones, it's confusing and upsetting to the community at large who lost their loved ones and grieved there."
But Addison Avenue residents Brenda Miller and Shirin Arnold said Wednesday they are not opposed to the club. Miller said she did not know much about it, but if it helps people it could be a good thing.
"Parking is terrible already. I don't see how it could get any worse," she said.
"I think it's good for the community. We get the traffic from the school anyway," she added.
The project would include several exterior modifications to the 1951 building, including a new drop-off area parallel to Addison Avenue, a modified parking area, a new play area and revisions to the exterior facades.
The council was scheduled to consider (though not vote on) the preliminary plans and offer early feedback at its Sept. 10 meeting, but staff has asked that the discussion be continued to Oct. 1.