The San Carlos City Council paved the way potentially for a large-scale fitness center at the city’s gateway by not extending an emergency zoning ordinance put in place to temporarily protect property it prefers to keep for a hotel.
The council voted 3-2 Monday, with councilmembers Karen Clapper and Mark Olbert dissenting, against continuing another 120 days the requirement that developers in the industrial area apply for a conditional permit for any proposed new or different uses. The original 45-day ordinance will run its course but, after that point, the land owner will not need further city review for permitted uses such as a recreation facility greater than 5,000 square feet.
The council imposed the ordinance in March as a way to stave off a large-scale fitness center whose representatives expressed interest in building on three of the five parcels at the corner of Industrial Road and Holly Street which the city considers the “landmark hotel site.” But business owners told the council that the sweeping ban is scaring away potential buyers and tenants and the council majority worried about infringing on private property rights.
Instead, spurred by Councilman Matt Grocott’s motion, the council asked city staff to work collaboratively with all the property owners to potentially change the zoning law and encourage them not to give the property for uses that might impede the desired hotel.
“I don’t think any of these guys mean to hurt the city with what they want to do with their properties,” Grocott said.
Community Development Director Al Savay told the council a large-scale fitness center would be an “immediate threat” to the site because a hotel would likely not come to town if a business of that size is on the parcels or nearby. The impact would be “irreversible,” Savay said.
The city has spent substantial time trying to get the parcels together for a hotel and not requiring extra approval is a potential threat to the long-term vision, said City Manager Jeff Maltbie.
“We could lose the last 12 years that have been invested by the community,” he said.
But property owners say they are the ones threatened and potential business is already running the other way rather than face the lengthy city approval process of paperwork and public hearings.
“Time delays are deal killers and this adds up to six weeks,” said attorney Ted Hannig, who spoke on behalf of Black Mountain Properties.
Mayor Bob Grassilli also wrestled with the potential cloud the interim ordinance could cast over economic activity.
“Markets don’t like uncertainty,” he said.
Savay countered that city staff were actually trying to help the market by moving quickly with a zoning “tune-up” to prevent an irreversible change with long-reaching implications.
City Attorney Greg Rubens said the city can’t simply enact the ordinance on the five parcels and leave the others as-is because that would be considered spot zoning.
Despite the council’s desire for a hotel, commercial Realtor William Steele said the reality of that happening might be off.
“Market forces do dictate development ... and I’m not seeing the economy supporting a hotel development here,” he said.
In 2007, the City Council unanimously voted to change its downtown zoning laws in large part to prevent a 99-cent store from occupying the spot now filled by Bianchini’s market. Any businesses wanting to occupy a space larger than 2,500 square feet must obtain a conditional use permit.
Grassilli said that ordinance is different than an urgency ordinance because it is crafted for properties over a specific size instead of every businesses in a specific district.
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