Sausalito Planning Commission Votes for Restaurant Status Quo in Marinship
The Sausalito City Council recently rejected a request from local fresh seafood restaurant Fish to expand its seating capacity from 70 to 120 people, since large restaurants are not permitted by zoning in the Marinship area. At an emotional meeting tonight (June 17), the Planning Commission also voted to maintain the status quo on a very different restaurant issue.
Since we cover restaurant and hotel news we sent an editor to report on the meeting. Late tonight we got back two versions of what happened: the "sound bite" and the story.
The Sound Bite
Twenty years ago it looked like the Marinship area of northern Sausalito was going to turn into one big office park, so special zoning rules were enacted to protect the remaining industrial and marine buildings and businesses. Offices and restaurants that were already there were exempted and allowed to stay.
The City said that the exemption had lapsed for 305 Harbor Drive, which is vacant but last housed Saylor's Landing. The landlord said it hadn't, and lots of angry people came to the meeting and said they wanted the same kind of restaurant at that spot. They're working out the language and precedent, but the Sausalito Planning Commission voted 4-1 to keep the exemption in one form or another. The process took close to three hours.
Here's the additional information that doesn't fit in a sound bite:
When Sausalito created the special Marinship development plan in 1988, new restaurants with over 40 seats were declared inappropriate, but existing places were "grandfathered in" and allowed to continue so long as they remained restaurants. Essentially, lunch spots for workers were fine, destinations for tourists were not. The idea was that eventually over many years the "non-conforming" offices and restaurants would be re-purposed back into industrial or marine uses, slowly returning Marinship to its prior personality.
This is the reason the City Council cited when they recently overruled the Planning Commission and denied the Fish expansion request.
The building at 305 Harbor Drive has been a 100-seat restaurant since 1970, so it qualified to continue in operation since it predates the 1988 rules. The building has been vacant ever since Saylor's Landing moved and merged into Saylor's Restaurant in 2007.
Sausalito city staff, noting that the restaurant at 305 Harbor Drive had been vacant for over a year, pointed to a rule that says that after a year out of operation the owners had to come back and get a special variance from the Planning Commission to have a restaurant larger than the zoning-enforced 40 seats in the building. This is how the system gradually "encourages" buildings in the area to go back to industrial and marine uses.
A long line of angry Sausalito residents said they missed having a restaurant there and that changing the requirements (or at least forcing the owner to pay thousands of dollars to get an exemption) was unfair overkill that would prevent any new restaurant from opening. They said no one could make the building work as a 40-seat restaurant. Some speakers pointed out cases where the confusion had already chased away qualified restaurants that looked at the building.
No one came forward to oppose the building's use as a 100-seat restaurant.
After almost three hours of often passionate discussion by residents and the Commissioners themselves, the Planning Commission voted 4-1 to develop language that will allow 305 Harbor Dr. to continue to be used as a 100-seat restaurant. As the Chairman pointed out, the landlord still has to make a deal with a restaurateur at terms that will let a new place succeed, and the new restaurant itself might fail.
The next step will be to work out the wording of how the rules will be clarified — and what precedents will be set — to make this decision binding. We'll keep you posted on what happens next.
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