Plan to nix new North Beach venues OK'd

New bars and restaurants in North Beach may have had their last call.

The Planning Commission endorsed a plan to ban new restaurants and bar spaces in North Beach after hearing several hours of heated arguments in favor and against the controversial proposal Thursday afternoon. But the commission’s recommendation asked for a special exception to the long-abandoned neighborhood eyesore, the Pagoda Theater, across from Washington Square Park.

The Pagoda Theater, built in 1909, has been vacant for more than a decade and plans to develop it have been fruitless. A developer has a plan to build a restaurant there along with 20 residential units and two retail spots.

The proposed legislation will next go to the Board of Supervisors, where Supervisor Aaron Peskin will try — for the third time in his career — to get a lid on the neighborhood’s booming nightlife.

For decades, North Beach has been a destination for diners and revelers, but police say in recent years, the scene has been more alcohol-oriented than ever before, causing rowdiness, crime and violence.

Peskin has said some 45 percent of the neighborhood’s storefronts are bars or restaurants — well more than the recommended 25 percent in The City’s general plan. He said the proliferation of these typically profitable businesses has driven out businesses important to residents, such as hardware stores and shoe-repair stores.

Many of the dozens of people who spoke at the Planning Commission’s meeting cited the loss of their favorite stores.
Lynnet Spiegel, who owns Jeffrey’s Natural Pet Food on Powell Street, said the neighborhood has become such a night-oriented district that there is very little foot traffic during the day.

She said her second store, located at 18th and Church Streets, receives three times the business that her North Beach store does, simply because there is more daytime foot traffic there.

“I just want my North Beach location to be able to continue to exist,” she said, speaking in favor of the legislation.

But about half the comments made before the commission criticized the measure, accusing Peskin of trying to force the neighborhood in an unrealistic direction, and saying it had not involved enough public input.

Resident Lee Goodin described the ordinance as a “misguided attempt” to “turn North Beach into some mythical Mayberry.”
“This action will only result in more closed, graffiti-covered storefronts — of which we already have too many,” he said.

In the end, the commission voted 4-2 to support the legislation, with the special amendment to grandfather in the Pagoda — a move made after the theater’s owner expressed concerns that the legislation could obstruct plans to redevelop.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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