Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Working to Keep Businesses in Downtown San Mateo

At the City Council meeting on January 3, I voted to grant a special use permit to SnapLogic, a software startup company in downtown San Mateo, which would have allowed them to expand their business with 25 new employees.  

The special use permit was necessary because of an ordinance enacted in 2001 that requires the Council to approve a special use permit for any business that is not primarily "retail" in nature. 

My effort to allow SnapLogic to expand in Downtown was denied by a 2-3 vote of the City Council. 

In making my pitch to grant SnapLogic a special use permit in Downtown San Mateo, I relied on the following reasons:

1)  First and foremost, SnapLogic has been a good corporate citizen in our City, and I wanted to encourage them to stay in San Mateo as their business grew. 

2)  The storefront that they proposed to move into has been vacant for over three years.  With the downturn in our economy, three years is too long, and I preferred to have an established business take up the existing vacancy rather than have the spot continue to sit empty. 

3)  The filling of vacant space and expansion of SnapLogic creates more tax revenue for the City of San Mateo which can be used to fund things like parks, libraries, and safety services for the citizens of San Mateo.  The additional employees to SnapLogic create new patrons who will eat, drink, and shop in our Downtown, adding additional revenue and vibrancy to our Downtown.   

4)  Neighborhood residents near downtown voiced concerns over employees from SnapLogic parking in their neighborhoods.  As a condition of the special use permit, the landlords leasing to SnapLogic agreed to require employees to verify that they were parking only in designated parking spots in Downtown. The granting of a special use permit thus helped alleviate an important issue for our San Mateo neighborhoods. 

5)  The current zoning ordinance passed in 2001 allowed us to make the necessary findings to grant SnapLogic a special use permit.  

When I ran for City Council in 2009, I campaigned on a platform of smart growth in our Downtown, with the need to grow businesses in order to help keep City revenue up.  Increased revenue allows the City to continue to offer the high level of services our residents expect and deserve.  I believe that the growth of dynamic young businesses such as SnapLogic add to the vitality of our community and are ultimately beneficial for all our neighborhoods and residents.  

I will continue to advocate for smart growth in our Downtown and throughout San Mateo.  

An article from the San Mateo Daily Journal appears below:

SnapLogic denied ground-floor for office
January 04, 2012, 12:28 PM Daily Journal staff report

SnapLogic, a startup software company in downtown San Mateo, will not be able to expand its business onto the ground floor of the Collective Antiques building as the council voted against the request Tuesday night.

The building’s owner, Steve Musich, fears the council’s move will send SnapLogic looking elsewhere for office space as it grows such as YouTube and AdMob previously did.

The council initially voted 4-1 to table the public hearing to a later date as the city’s Planning Division is set to review the city code that requires retail uses downtown.

But Musich, when asked by the council, said he would prefer to have a decision sooner than later.

The council then voted 3-2 to deny Musich’s special use permit request.

The vote prompted Musich to say he would sell the building since one of three storefronts on the Third Avenue building has been vacant for three years.

“I’ve given up,” Musich told the Daily Journal Wednesday. “They were trying to find a way to approve it. The code is written so poorly. The way it was written is not very clear.”

City code, adopted in 2001, limits downtown storefronts to primarily retail uses or ground-floor dependent offices such as travel, real estate or insurance agents.

The council decided after much debate that SnapLogic does not meet the city code requirements because it neither conducts a majority of its business face-to-face on the site nor serve clients on an unannounced or drop-in basis such as retail establishments do.

Musich called the city code outdated and Deputy Mayor David Lim and Councilman Jack Matthews agreed that the code needs to be revised.

“I hope the decision does not come at a loss of business,” Lim said. “How is it better to have a vacant space than having it filled with a tenant?”

Lim made a motion to allow SnapLogic to expand its business from the basement of the Collective Antiques building into the upstairs space and got some support for the motion from Councilwoman Maureen Freschet.

Mayor Brandt Grotte, councilmen Robert Ross and Matthews voted against the Musich request, however.

“The council really wants to support new businesses in the downtown as well as retain existing ones. We recognize the zoning ordinance needs to be updated to deal with the evolving new economy and retail environment. We just need a little time to do that. I felt we had to have a firm foundation to approve the appeal and it just wasn’t there,” Matthews said.

The city’s Chief of Planning Ron Munekawa said reviewing the “Required Retail Frontage Requirements” would take anywhere from six to eight months to complete.

The code was adopted to protect retail uses downtown during the “dot-com boom” when demand for office space was high.

Much of the council’s discussion on the item Tuesday night centered on the specific language of the code and how it could be interpreted.

Lim suggested the code did allow for the council to grant the special use permit but staff and City Attorney Shawn Mason disagreed.

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