City renews downtown business freeze
The city council voted unanimously Tuesday night to renew the temporary freeze on downtown business uses for another year.
Last July, the council enacted an interim zoning ordinance that prevented business location uses from being changed. The ordinance was set to expire on July 15.
“There seemed to be a frantic pace of change — this calmed it,” said Mayor Mark Burton. “I think we have to do something — what, I don’t know. If we lift it completely, we’ll be back where we were.”
The city was limited by state law to expanding the ban to a maximum of one year.
The city has hired firm PMC to design a plan for the downtown. Planning Manager Laurie Jester estimated the plan will take 12 to 16 months to complete.
Councilmember David Lesser asked what the benefit would be of extending the freeze for a year if the plan wasn’t done by then.
“I think in a 12-month time frame, we’ll know where we’re going with our goals,” said Jester.
Downtown Business and Professional Association Executive Director Kelly Stroman said her organization supported the extension.
“In the last year, it’s created peace over the land,” she said.
However, representatives of commercial property owners said they feared a continuation would “dampen investment.”
“Commercial property owners are not in favor of extending the ordinance,” said downtown property owner Tony Choueke. “But we have confidence in the council, and recognize we won’t always get what we want.”
Like the original temporary ordinance, the extension includes a hardship exemption under which property owners can appeal directly to the council to change their use.
Two such requests have been made in the past year, both by or on behalf of Ron Koch, who owns a two-story commercial building on Highland Avenue.
The council denied his first request to move a temporary jewelry store into the space left vacant by the F. Grill, which was zoned as a restaurant.
It approved Nikau Waterman Shop’s recent proposal to use the restaurant space as a café and to convert part of the building currently zoned as an auto repair shop into retail.
City staff proposed allowing businesses to apply for use permits rather than seek hardship exemptions. The council rejected the proposal because it would cost businesses money to apply and take more time than requesting a hardship exemption.
Later in the evening, the council approved another one-year plan for the downtown: expanded valet parking. The Urban Land Institute suggested the measure to combat problems of parking.
The council agreed to add two new locations, extend the hours of operation and increasing the flat fee from $9 to $11. It limited the contract with Crimson Parking to one year, however, instead of the three years originally proposed. After hearing from community members who complained about double and triple parking at the current valet stations, the council stipulated that the valet couldn’t double or triple park.
Again, at least one councilmember and one resident asked if it would be better to wait for the long term plan.
“Why are we doing this now instead of waiting for the downtown Specific Plan?” asked councilman Wayne Powell.
Traffic engineer Erik Zandvliet answered, “We have an existing need now. It wouldn’t necessarily change any future Specific Plan. We can adapt.” ER