Rules clamping businesses may be permanent

Temporary rules that control what kinds of businesses can move into downtown’s larger retail spaces could soon become permanent, but commerce leaders are cautioning the city not to make the process take too long or cost too much.

City leaders took quick action last winter to block a dollar-type store from moving into the vacant Bell Market site on the 800 block of Laurel Street, then enacted a temporary rule requiring a use permit for any business hoping to occupy a space 2,500 square feet or larger.

They expanded the rules to the 600 and 700 blocks of Laurel Street, as well as the 1100 and 1200 blocks of San Carlos Avenue.

That action is set to expire in February of 2008, and local officials are studying whether to make the change permanent.

The San Carlos Chamber of Commerce board took up the issue during yesterday’s meeting, and ultimately hopes leaders will do what’s best for downtown — and for business.

“We are concerned about what costs might be borne by businesspeople, but are balancing that with a need for San Carlos to continue its upscale development of downtown,” board President Sally Mitchell said.

Obtaining a use permit can take 55 days or more, and requires a permit fee of roughly $2,500, said Community Development Director Al Savay.

“This is real, live money, and for some dedicated people, that kind of guarantee with no guarantee on the other end could be a deal-breaker,” Mitchell said.

Similar concerns emerged at a recent Economic Development Advisory Committee session, where members recommended streamlining the process as much as possible, said member Scot Marsters. Their recommendation, in favor of requiring use permits on large spaces permanently, heads to the Planning Commission Nov. 5.

“We also wanted them to define what types of businesses would be acceptable, versus just coming along and saying ‘no’ to certain things,” Marsters said.

Downtown’s look and feel has undergone intense scrutiny in recent years, when leaders considered a moratorium on adding new coffee shops after Starbucks Coffee proposed opening a second café on Laurel Street.

Over the past year, there has been little interest from new businesses in downtown’s larger spaces, although the site of the original controversy — Bell Market — has had a few suitors, Savay said. However, ongoing legal issues between Kroeger, which owns the lease, and a trust that owns the property, have prevented any new tenants from moving in.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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