Burlingame merchants push for easing restaurant restrictions on Broadway

Some merchants are calling on Burlingame's government to lift a moratorium on new Broadway restaurants to address a demand for more local food options.

While the request comes amid complaints from business owners who claim the city hasn't done enough to make Broadway an appealing destination, Burlingame officials have invited stakeholders to a Broadway summit, which they're hosting next month in order to explore ideas about improving the street.

Broadway Business Improvement District President John Kevranian says residents have been clamoring for new restaurants, and the city should respond to that demand by lifting a restriction for the corridor. Kevranian, who previously clashed with the city over its decision to allow Off the Grid to stage its food truck events in close proximity to Broadway, noted that a frequent complaint from food truck fans was that there aren't enough dining choices on Broadway.

According to former City Councilman Jerry Deal, the ordinance — which limits Broadway to just 28 food vendors — was approved 30 years ago and designed to maintain a balance between restaurants and retail stores. The moratorium was crafted with the belief that too many restaurants might turn Broadway into a nightlife destination, which could hurt retail operations that depend on daytime foot traffic, Deal noted.

Kevranian, who owns the Nuts For Candy retail store on Broadway, believes additional food vendors would boost local retail sales because they would help the street compete with nearby Burlingame Avenue.

“There's life on Burlingame Avenue,” Kevranian noted. “You won't see that here if you don't make some changes.”

Under the moratorium, Broadway restaurateurs are at the mercy of their landlords because the food permits are attached to the buildings, which prevents restaurant proprietors from being able to relocate if their rent is raised or the space they're occupying no longer meets their needs, Kevranian argued.

One such proprietor is Diana Guerrero, who says her organic Latin restaurant, Magda Luna, has outgrown its current location. In addition to wanting the freedom to move into a space that could accommodate a larger kitchen, Guerrero said she would like to see more variety on the street, with new restaurants being just a starting point. She added that she's not worried about new restaurants competing with hers because anything that brings people to Broadway would be good for all its merchants.

Landlord Nick Koros' family owns six commercial spaces on Broadway, four of which have food permits. He said he would gladly give up any advantage he receives from the current scarcity of food permits because ending the moratorium would yield long-term benefits for the community. While Burlingame Avenue is benefiting from an ongoing beautification project, the city has neglected Broadway and has no clear vision for the street, Koros argued.

Mayor Michael Brownrigg said prior to the current project, Burlingame Avenue had gone for 30 years without meaningful improvements, and the City Council has scheduled the upcoming Broadway summit in an effort to address concerns about Broadway's future. The mayor said a restaurant moratorium on Burlingame Avenue was lifted two years ago, and he supports a similar change for Broadway.

“These kinds of quotas can have unintended consequences,” Brownrigg noted.

The Broadway summit is scheduled at 9 a.m. Oct.18 at the First Presbyterian Church, 1500 Easton Drive, Burlingame. The city is also soliciting opinions via a survey at http://tinyurl.com/broadwaysurvey

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