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Bayside Entrepreneurs Urge Council to Cut Red Tape

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

January 27 -- With a five-year moratorium protecting restaurants on the Third Street Promenade about to run out, City officials got an unexpected new take Tuesday night on how to regulate the ambience of the popular and profitable outdoor mall.

The City Council voted unanimously to pass an ordinance controlling restaurant-to-retail conversion by requiring a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) if a landlord wants to replace a restaurant with a retail tenant.

But the regulation is likely to be temporary while staff takes a look at a last-minute proposal from Downtown officials and comes back with an analysis and text amendment to replace the just-passed law.

In a letter dated January 17, the Bayside District Corporation board, which runs the Downtown, outlined steps that would preserve outdoor dining while giving business owners more flexibility in how they use their space.

“Necessity became the mother of invention,” Council member Richard Bloom said of the proposal.

“Everybody who’s heard this idea has thought ‘good idea,’” Council member Kevin McKeown added.

He thanked Bayside board member Jennifer Hranilovich, for “bringing fresh eyes to a situation that has puzzled many of us for a long time.”

Hranilovich, speaking as an individual, described her original proposal to the Bayside District.

Her plan was simply to control the total number of a restaurant’s seats and allow the owners to put seats upstairs, in the basement, or out on the street.

This would give restaurateurs an incentive to expand outdoor dining, freeing up indoor space for other uses.

Hranilovich pointed out that it’s outdoor dining that enhances the ambience of the whole outdoor mall.

At the same time, under her plan, landlords and business owners would avoid the “inflexible and onerous” CUP process.

While Hranilovich preferred her original idea because of its simplicity – “everybody knows exactly what they have to do” – she supported the Bayside board’s version in which restaurants will have to maintain 100 percent of their outdoor seating.

In addition, the board’s proposed minimum width and depth requirements would prevent “that weird canyon type restaurant thing going on,” she said.

While the council agreed to entertain the new alternative, Council member Ken Genser pointed out that it might be better to measure outdoor dining by square footage, not by the number of seats.

“Nobody’s going to know the number of seats,” Genser said. If the city bases compliance on outdoor floor area, “once it’s built, it’s not likely to change.”

He also pointed out a potentially trouble-making flaw in the ordinance before the council. As written, candidates for a CUP would have to fulfill one of two conditions:

? To “preserve the unique mixture” of uses and “maintain…the vitality and diversity of the Promenade,” or
? To “add to the diversity of the Bayside District.”

Genser wanted to know “what happens if some special store starts to morph into something else?” For example, what happens if a specialty shoe import store that begins losing money starts selling Nikes?

“How do we prevent using this condition in a devious way?” he asked.

Per Genser’s motion, the second condition was stricken from the ordinance.

As it stands, landlords of any restaurant in business on the Promenade as of Tuesday night’s reading will have to obtain a CUP if they want to convert their property to retail use.

Council members reassured themselves that it was unlikely that this would happen within four to five months.

That’s how long Interim Director of Planning Andy Agle said it would take him to get the analysis and text amendment based on the Bayside board’s proposal back to them.

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