Bill Silverfarb/Daily Journal
A packed house attended a San Mateo City Council meeting last night to protest against the city's approval of a 7-Eleven on North San Mateo Drive.
7-Eleven won't die — at least not when it comes to the city of San Mateo trying to determine whether to allow it to operate on a piece of land zoned residential.
With the store opening soon and construction nearly complete, the City Council voted last night to initiate a hearing to determine if the market use at 501 N. San Mateo Drive is a legal non-conforming use in accordance with city code.
The hearing will be quasi-judicial and attorneys for the property owner, 7-Eleven and San Mateo Heights Neighborhood Association will be able to subpeona witnesses to help the council decide whether it ultimately wants to terminate the market use for the site and return it back to residential use.
Under city code, all parties will once again have to face the city's Planning Commission, which previously gave 7-Eleven a chilly reception and voted to recommend to the council to terminate the market use at the site because it would be especially burdensome to the neighborhood.
Last night was the first opportunity the council had to weigh in on the matter and lawyers for the property owner and 7-Eleven made it clear they are ready to fight.
At issue is why the City Attorney's Office gave a second competing opinion, in an email to city staff, on the city code that governs non-conforming uses after the office made it clear to several interested parties that the property would revert back to residential since the market use was "discontinued or abandoned” for more than six months.
"There is only one opinion that counts, that the use was not discontinued,” said Richard Givens, the attorney representing property owner Portfolio Development Partners.
Stephen Jamieson, attorney for 7-Eleven, even questioned why Deputy Mayor David Lim would conduct a "skillful cross-examination of staff.”
Jamieson also urged the council not to be swayed by public opinion.
"7-Eleven entered into a long-term contract on reliance of the city,” Jamieson said. "The property was purchased in reliance on city actions. The city cannot go back on its word.”
The company signed a lease with a 30-year term, he said.
Both Portfolio and 7-Eleven estimate their combined losses to be more than $8 million if the city does terminate the use.
Portfolio just bought the property in August for a little more than $1 million.
About 25 members of the public spoke out against the 7-Eleven moving into the neighborhood last night.
"This is not the first time Portfolio has done business. They knew the rules. Portfolio circumvented the rules on the merit of an email,” said Kathy Smith, who lives in the neighborhood.
Christine Stiles told the council more hearings were needed so that the city can learn exactly what happened and to not be swayed by the threats of lawsuits.
"It's perplexing if you look at the documentation,” she said about the city's process of granting building permits for the 7-Eleven.
The council opted to hold more hearings to determine whether the market use is legal non-conforming but it could have moved to determine whether to terminate the legal non-conforming use at last night's meeting.
If it did, it would have considered whether the 7-Eleven would be especially burdensome on the neighborhood and how long the market use would be allowed to stand for the property owners to recoup their investment — a minimum of two years and maximum of five years.
The earliest the Planning Commission can hear the issue is Nov. 27.
Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.