South City’s plan zones out on certain businesses 

As city officials try to revive The Industrial City with more restaurants and retail, some businesses say the revised general plan is phasing them out.

South City officials updated the general plan in 1999, calling for more retail to bring in sales tax revenue and lure biotech workers into the city.

But in the revisions, officials neglected to update the zoning plan, which designates areas for such uses as housing or retail, Councilmember Karyl Matsumoto said.

The lack of an update has frustrated local business owners, especially those who want to continue leasing buildings for industrial or office use. While the old zoning allows for purposes such as office use, city officials are denying property owners permits for office space because they want to see more retail, they say.

Former Councilmember John Penna, of Penna Realty Property Management, which owns several buildings in South City, said the lack of clarity in the city’s general plan is affecting older businesses.

After trying to open a medical facility in his downtown office building, Penna was told the ground floor had to have retail, something he felt the building couldn’t accommodate. The dispute took him all the way to the City Council last month, when the use was finally permitted.

"Nobody should have to go to the council — these are things that should be handled on planning staff level," he said.

Matsumoto said that is precisely the point of creating the zoning update.

"We’ve got to balance housing and other needs," she said.

Other property owners said they have also had a hard time receiving approvals from city planners.

Owners of Sitike Counseling Center, a rehabilitation center located in a city-owned building in downtown, were denied their request to move to a different building in the area.

"It makes it much more difficult for nonprofits that are not retail," said Rhonda Ceccato, the center’s director.

"All these new codes made it more cumbersome to do business in the city," said Paul Poletti, who owns a warehouse in South City. "If you have a business and it doesn’t produce sales tax, they don’t want you."

The city’s director of economic and community development Marty Van Duyn agreed that the general plan is all about producing revenue for the city.

"We have the most industrial land in the county and it’s not paying for itself," he said. "We’re trying to balance out the uses and services that the community can withstand."

svasilyuk@examiner.com

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