San Carlos stores wait to relocate 

Businesses hoping to move into larger spots downtown will have to pay hefty fees and wait at least 55 days for approval, causing some business owners to gripe that the new rules are hostile.

The new policy, adopted Monday by the City Council, requires the Planning Commission’s nod for businesses hoping to move into spaces 2,500 square feet or bigger within the city’s retail core, unless it’s the same type of business that was in the space before.

It builds upon an emergency requirement adopted in February that applied only to the 800 block of Laurel Street after city leaders discovered that a "dollar"-type store was interested in leasing the former Bell Market site.

Since, then, the restrictions have expanded to include the 600, 700 and 800 blocks of Laurel Street and the 1100 and 1200 blocks ofSan Carlos Avenue, which include roughly 16 retail spaces larger than 2,500 square feet, Community Development Director Al Savay said. Approval could take 55 days or more, and requires a permit fee of roughly $2,500.

Because it controls so few sites — just 10 to 15 percent of downtown shopfronts — some downtown business owners say the new policy is both ineffective and hostile.

"This is a great added burden you’re putting on a downtown that in many ways is still struggling," said Elizabeth Puccinelli, whose family owns property downtown. "It’s a competitive marketplace, and if people feel there’s this burden, they will be less likely to do business here."

Talin Tascian, an attorney whose parents own Oriental Rugs & Interiors at 1245 San Carlos Ave., said the rules could ultimately backfire. "This ordinance doesn’t prevent a dollar store from opening in 90 percent of downtown," she said.

However, the new rules last just 10 and a half months. That creates enough time for the city to update its West Side Specific Plan this year, which includes guidelines for downtown, Savay said.

"What we need is a ... plan that reflects what the city’s vision is for the downtown core," Vice Mayor Brad Lewis said.

While some business owners think the move is too "dictatorial," Chamber of Commerce President Sheryl Pomerenk said, none have come out strongly in favor of the move, though many think it’s important to preserve downtown’s character.

"From my perspective, the ordinance is good," Pomerenk said. "A large space is a wonderful opportunity for something that would attract people downtown, and that’s the goal. You want downtown to thrive."

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