Pleasanton Masons have been ordered by the city's Planning Commission to curb outside activities at their lodge on Hopyard Road after a group of neighboring Valley Trails home owners complained about excessive noise and parties.
Starting this month, the Masons will have to replace French doors leading to a backyard patio where the parties have been taking place with a solid door that can only be used to exit the lodge, but not to re-enter.
The commission also imposed new restrictions on the Mason's unconditional use permit issued in 1977 that will limit outdoor activities to four times a year, stop late night activities and even require the lodge to remove all but three outdoor sheds and require city permits if they every buy new ones.
The move seemed to satisfy those complaining, including 19 speakers who at times angrily criticized the commission and staff planners as if they had been the cause of their neighborhood's disruptions all along.
"It's obvious that the staff did not keep its promise to do something about this problem, said Darlene Miller, whose home is near the Masonic Lodge.
"Although you may like going to parties, you probably never expected your neighbor on the other side of your backyard fence to morph into a commercial party business and financially profit by renting their backyard for large public parities of up to 600 people, including serving alcohol," Miller wrote in a letter to the Pleasanton Weekly.
Despite the Planning Commission's action to rein in the partying, it will have little effect on the Masons. They're selling the building to the Chabad of the Tri-Valley, an orthodox Jewish organization that apparently has been one of the groups renting the building from the Masons and holding a few of the parties.
The Chabad, a fast-growing organization considered a dynamic force in Jewish life, is headed by Rabbi Raleigh Resnick of Pleasanton, which 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 a 3-1/2-hour meeting, the Planning Commission seemed intent on resolving years of complaints.
Neighborhood relations with the Masons deteriorated in 2008-2009 when the Masons began renting out their building to non-Masonic groups for large gatherings and parties.
Why city staff and the commission failed to address those complaints is unclear. No one on the commission today or even employed at the city Planning Department was around in those years.
The Valley Trail community concerns are not over.
The Chabad's request for a new conditional use permit to use the Masonic Lodge building is expected to seek relief from the restrictions just imposed, especially over using the building's backyard for festive and religious outdoor activities.
"The Planning Commission really ratcheted back the uses that are now allowed in that building," said Adam Weinstein, city planning manager. "I'm sure the commission will be much more careful in structuring a new use permit because of so many complaints."
When that happens, it's likely the commission will hear from the Valley Trails neighbors again.