Burlingame City Council set to lift new restaurant moratorium on Broadway

Burlingame's City Council is expected to lift a moratorium on new food vendors on Broadway, a move some elected officials and merchants describe as just one step in a larger plan to revitalize the shopping corridor.

After the Planning Commission recently voted 7-0 to lift the restriction on new restaurant permits along the thoroughfare, the City Council is scheduled to vote on the matter during its meeting Monday.

The ordinance currently limits Broadway to 28 food vendors and was originally enacted to address concerns that daytime foot traffic might disappear if the street had too many restaurants and not enough retail stores. But some merchants claim the restrictions no longer reflect the neighborhood's needs and stifle existing Broadway restaurateurs, who have been unable to expand or relocate on the street.

One such merchant is Diana Guerrero, owner of the Magda Luna organic Latin restaurant. She said she has a strained relationship with her landlord, but the moratorium has forced her to remain in her current storefront. In anticipation of the restrictions being removed, Guerrero said she's evaluating another space on the street where she might need to spend $250,000 constructing a new kitchen.

Spearheading the change is Broadway Business Improvement District President John Kevranian, who acknowledged that some residents have concerns about whether adding restaurants would exacerbate the area's parking problems. But Kevranian said addressing the dearth of available parking spaces is another part of his vision for the neighborhood.

Dozens of parking spaces around Broadway currently have 10-hour time limits, Kevranian said, and converting them to two-hour time limits would make it easier for diners and shoppers to find parking. Kevranian said the business improvement district plans to provide merchants with window decals reading, “This is a change-friendly store” so visitors won't feel shy about asking retailers to make change for the parking meters.

Several parking lots around Broadway are underutilized, Kevranian noted, including one on California Street that often appears to be empty. Broadway merchants and workers should be encouraged to use those lots to allow prime parking spaces to remain available for customers, Kevranian said.

Another underutilized resource that can potentially reduce parking problems and bring more visitors to the area is the Burlingame Trolley, Kevranian said. A joint project between the city, local hotels and downtown merchants, the free shuttle bus operates year-round, runs about every 45 minutes, and connects hotels on the east side of the U.S. Highway 101 to destinations on Broadway and Burlingame Avenue.

Kevranian lamented how the shuttle seems to mostly be used only by hotel guests, and said a campaign to make locals aware of the free transportation source is in the works.

City Councilman Michael Brownrigg said he would like to see the Burlingame Trolley expand its route to include the Burlingame Plaza shopping center and Mills Peninsula Hospital, because that would enable commuters from the nearby Millbrae BART station to take the shuttle to downtown Burlingame.

Brownrigg noted that the food moratorium is just one of several zoning restrictions on Broadway that city officials might relax. Another change might involve allowing a wider variety of uses on the second floors of businesses, the councilman said, but potential parking impacts will play a key role in whether such changes are approved.

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