Jul 29, 2014
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Council Passes Altered Downtown Office Ban

Extension of emergency ordinance lasts for 10 months, though Planning Commission is expected to overhaul downtown zoning regulations starting later this month.

The Mill Valley City Council carved up a map of downtown Monday night, identifying an area where a ban on storefront office space will apply and extending an .

The council had approved a 45-day urgency ordinance on Feb. 22 and needed to extend it this week to avoid having it expire on Friday. But City Manager Jim McCann told the council that broader changes to zoning regulations, as recommended by the Business Advisory Board, would be taken up by the Planning Commission later this month.

“The thought that the world is going to stop spinning for a long time isn’t the case,” McCann said. “This would extend (the ban) for a year but it will be dealt with by the Planning Commission sooner than that.”

The urgency ban on storefront offices was a reaction of sorts to the controversy surrounding real estate company Alain Pinel’s permit application to move into 32 Miller Avenue.

The Planning Commission , and the in a 3-2 vote, with the majority backing the argument that the immediate downtown area should be kept as retail.

Alain Pinel subsequently to make more of 32 Miller, the onetime prospective home of the second incarnation of the Sweetwater, inaccessible to the public. That change removed the need for a conditional use permit (CUP) from the city, and Alain Pinel is targeting a July opening at 32 Miller.

Although councilmembers were in agreement about extending the ban, the area to which it would apply garnered the bulk of the debate Monday night. The council eventually agreed to center the ban on the immediate area surrounding Lytton Square and Depot Plaza and avoided including sections of East Blithedale, Sunnyside and Corte Madera avenues (see map at right).

Before it did, the council heard from three downtown property owners who said that including their properties in the ban would adversely impact their ability to rent out space.

Tom Kostic, a Tamalpais Ave. resident who owns the Throckmorton Ave. building that used to house the Tamalpais General Store, said he supported keeping Throckmorton storefronts as retail, even declining Alain Pinel’s previous interest in opening a real estate office in that space.

Kostic said extending the office ban to Sunnyside Avenue would be a detriment to the buildings that extend from Throckmorton back to Sunnyside.

“The problem is that in taking a broad brush, you’re freezing rental activity, which isn’t a good thing for the city,” said Kostic, who has owned downtown property for nearly 60 years.

, who owns the building on Sunnyside that houses his business, Mill Valley Personal Fitness, agreed.

“If you look at the 14 buildings that are on that street, it’s rental homes, the back of restaurants and offices and very little retail,” Ferroni said. “You just don’t have the foot traffic.”

Kostic said his building at 23 Sunnyside, which has been vacant since the boutique baby clothing store Honeys and Heroes closed two years ago, has been difficult to lease.

“It’s probably more suited for office space,” he said.

Tom Reimer, a Tiburon resident who owns 25 Corte Madera Ave. across from City Hall, said his building has street level space but it has been entirely office space for nearly 50 years. The building is currently completely occupied by Bond Desk.

“It is an office building and the city knows that,” Reimer said. “It doesn’t lend itself to a commercial use.”

The council heeded the property owners’ recommendation, trimming down the area impacted by the ban.

“Let’s really protect that perimeter space around the square for retail,” said Councilwoman Shawn Marshall. “It’s sort of the heartbeat of our town. I think our town needs to move with the changing times and economy and be a little more flexible around mixed use.”

McCann noted that zoning regulations don’t need to follow parcel lines, meaning that the ban could impact the portion of a building that fronts on Throckmorton but not the back of it on Sunnyside.

The commission will start tackling broader changes to downtown’s zoning regulations on April 25.

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