San Carlos moves to block discount store 

City officials are blocking a dollar-rate discount store from taking up residence in the vacant Bell Market building, sending a message that certain larger businesses won’t be welcome on Laurel Street.

The City Council unanimously voted Monday to immediately change downtown zoning law — now, any business hoping to move into a space larger than 2,500 square feet on the 800 block of Laurel Street must obtain a use permit. The only exceptions are for new businesses of the same type already operating at the site — a restaurant replacing a restaurant, for example, according to Community Development Director Al Savay.

The temporary change will hold for 45 days. The City Council is expected to revisit the issue March 12, and may consider expanding the provision along Laurel Street, as well as making it a permanent rule.

"These are larger buildings that have a much larger impact as a potential catalyst," Savay said. "If something happens in one of these buildings, it could affect the whole area, or even all of downtown."

Leasing agents with Kroeger have hunted for a replacement since Bell Market closed last year, but so far have had little luck, according to Connie Barton, member of the San Carlos Economic Development Advisory Commission. They apparently had one offer from a discount store, but many in San Carlos said they don’t want such a store in the middle of downtown.

Kroeger representatives could not be reached for comment.

"This is a chance to stop what could potentially be a bad presence downtown, and to look at big properties and make some wise decisions," San Carlos Chamber of Commerce President Sheryl Pomerenk told the City Council on Monday.

Resident Margret Desmond also urged the city to adopt the changes and to "preserve the culture of San Carlos," which until now has primarily offered small boutique shops downtown. A use permit would require review by the city’s Planning Department, and potentially the Planning Commission and City Council, before being granted.

San Carlos has seen some turnover among its larger retail properties in recent years, particularly with the addition of a Blockbuster Video and party supply store Diddams in the old Woolworth’s site, according to Barton.

"People were nervous about [Blockbuster], but it’s been fine," Barton said.

Last fall, local cafe owners asked the city to introduce new rules that would block Starbucks from opening a second location on Laurel Street. However, the EDAC recommended against restricting chain stores such as Starbucks, fearing that it would drive away new retail interests.

The EDAC is likely to examine the proposed new rules for larger downtown buildings at its meeting March 1, according to Barton.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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