Bay Area city won’t let owner of Michelin-starred restaurant retire

Michelin-starred restaurant Chez TJ is located at 938 Villa St. in Mountain View. 

Sheila K. on Yelp

George Aviet believed that after four decades of running his Michelin-starred restaurant Chez TJ he’d be able to retire comfortably, but these days retirement seems far out of reach due to the historic ties of his property.

Aviet has been in limbo since 2017, as first reported by the Mountain View Voice, when the city of Mountain View halted his plan to develop Chez TJ’s property at 938 Villa St., which is the site of the 129-year-old Weilheimer House. Six years later, Aviet still feels like his hands are tied.  

“I feel paralyzed,” Aviet told SFGATE. “I’m very disappointed and very tired. I wanted to be able to retire with decent value of the property to either sell or develop it. … I want freedom of a choice.”

In 2017, Aviet linked up with a developer who proposed building a four-story building with a restaurant over the Chez TJ property and neighboring Tied House site in a $7 million deal. During the construction plans, Aviet said that the architect on the team suggested that he preserve the Weilheimer House and relocate it elsewhere in the city. But the suggested plan didn’t go over well with locals, who shared their grievances about developing the city’s historic facade. Ultimately, Mountain View City Council voted against relocating the Weilheimer House because of historic preservation concerns, the Mountain View Voice reports.

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According to a spokesperson for the city of Mountain View, an office building was proposed for the site in 2017: “When we started the [California Environmental Quality Act] process, the City Council decided that they would not approve the proposed modifications to the property (demolition or relocation of the existing building).”

It wasn’t the news Aviet was hoping for, but he carried on running his restaurant, which has held on to its Michelin star since 2007. Then, two years later, the Weilheimer House was nominated for historic preservation by neighborhood group Livable Mountain View. The building was reviewed by the State Historical Resources Commission in February 2019 and granted historic status by the California Register of Historical Resources that summer, the Mountain View Voice reports. Separately, the Weilheimer House was eligible to be added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019, though an “owner objection” kept it off the list.

A spokesperson for the city of Mountain View told SFGATE that the Weilheimer House was added to the Historic Preservation Ordinance and register in 2004 but that Aviet opted out during the six-month period offered to property owners who didn’t want to be on the register. After the six months, properties listed in Mountain View’s historic registry remain on the list and cannot be removed for 10 years.

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While the Weilheimer House is not officially part of the city register, the spokesperson for the city of Mountain View told SFGATE that the site is still subject to city review. According to city ordinance 36.54.90, building owners must apply for a special permit to do any structural modifications if their property is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places or the California Register of Historical Resources. The California Environmental Quality Act requires a review of the proposed changes and a public report in addition to a city council review.

Aviet shared that he was never interested in adding his property to any historic registry. Beginning around the early 1990s, Aviet said that the city approached him with interest to add the Weilheimer House to the historic register; he declined the offer. He said that the city approached him again in 1999 and 2004 but he said no both times on the grounds of wanting to be free of any restrictions.

At this point, Aviet estimates that Weilheimer House is about 20% original after years of remodeling projects that include roof replacement, updated windows, and electrical work. While he doesn’t want to close Chez TJ’s anytime soon, he still wants to have the right to choose what to do with his business and property. He blames the city for his inability to retire on his terms and added that after evaluating the site two years ago, the property was estimated at about $3 million.

“I feel like the city turned their back to me in the way that they came up with this idea that this building is valuable to the historical registry,” Aviet said. “I feel betrayed by the city that they didn’t allow me to either build something on that land or sell it to value when [I] was trying to develop the property.”

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Aviet feels worried that he may never be able to sell the property at a fair price and isn’t interested in selling for $3 million for fear that after paying off his loans and expenses there won’t be enough left to retire.  

“I cannot do anything about it,” Aviet said. “[The city] damaged my life and damaged the future that I could have with a wonderful retirement plan.”

Mountain View held a meeting on Oct. 30 to discuss the Historic Preservation Ordinance and how the Register of Historic Resources is updated. On Friday, a spokesperson for the city of Mountain View told SFGATE that a follow-up meeting will be held on Dec. 12, once the city reviews public comment.

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