Building Owner Seeks Delay as Subway Opposition Surges

With mounting online campaign against Subway’s move into downtown Mill Valley, the owner of the space the sandwich chain seeks to occupy gets an attorney and hopes to postpone hearing to May 7.

Faced with a surging opposition to , the owner of the building the sandwich chain hopes to occupy has hired an attorney and asked the City Council to delay Monday’s hearing of an appeal of the ’s proposal.

“There is little time available to prepare answers to the questions that will be raised in the report,” wrote Lynn Spaulding, owner of 29 Miller Ave., the where Subway franchisee Akki Patel hopes to open a restaurant. Spaulding said she’s hired Santa Rosa attorney Jeremy Olsan to represent her at the hearing.

Spaulding said she hopes Olsan can assist her regarding her property rights as a landowner, particularly since city officials reversed course, originally recommending that the Planning Commission approve a conditional use permit (CUP) for Subway but now recommending that the City Council deny Subway’s appeal (staff report attached at right).

City officials said the request for a continuance came too late for the item to be pulled from the council’s April 16 agenda. But Spaulding’s request for the delay is part of the council’s packet on the matter and staff has recommended granting her request for a delay to the council’s May 7 meeting.

City Manager Jim McCann said it was typical for the city to grant an applicant’s first request for a continuance. He acknowledged that the turn of events creates the odd scenario of a postponed hearing still drawing a throng of residents who want to speak their minds about Subway’s appeal. The council could either: delay the hearing and not allow public comment on it; delay the hearing but allow public comment; or reject Spaulding’s request and hold the appeal hearing, McCann said.

But while the last-minute machinations created some confusion, there was no doubt what incited the request for a delay: a campaign that has galvanized foodies, opponents to chain businesses and residents of neighborhoods near the proposed Subway, among others.

Local real estate agent Linda Walsh created an online petition that has garnered nearly 400 signatures to date. The petition, posted on Change.org, triggers form letters to be sent to City Hall in opposition for every signature, so the city has received hundreds of letters about Subway.

“By letting one of these chain stores in, all the rest would soon follow and the feeling of downtown Mill Valley, which is so special and lovely, would change,” Walsh said. “There’s little doubt of the veracity of that happening.”

Walsh said she’s actually disappointed at the support for her petition so far, citing local schools’ spring break and the fact that many people thought the Planning Commission’s Feb. 27 rejection of Subway was the final word on the matter. She plans to set up downtown with a paper petition to continue to drum up more opposition this weekend.

Local resident , the editor/publisher of Edible Marin & Wine Country magazine called the possibility that the council could approve a Subway “appalling.” She cited Subway’s lack of local, quality ingredients and the need to support Marin’s agricultural community by buying food produced locally.

In addition to the petition and the letters its has generated, the city has received more than 35 other letters about Subway to date (attached at right). Not all were in opposition to the sandwich chain.

Don Dickey, who has lived in town for 46 years, said “somewhere along the way, our town changed from Mill Valley to ME Valley … There’s not much the City Council can do about the high cost of housing, however, the Subway shop is an opportunity for you to help everybody with the high cost of living, just those ME types.”

Local resident Kristina Betz agreed, saying she didn’t appreciate the aggressive lobbying efforts of some of those behind the petition.

“It is a sandwich shop, not a strip club,” she wrote. “We shouldn't be so exclusive …We have a right to make our own choices. Plus, it is a vacant spot in a retail outlet – certainly better to fill it in this economy.”

Mitch Wortzman, a member of the Parkwood Association of Neighbors, which has been staunchly opposed to Subway moving into the shopping center adjacent to its neighborhood, said he was disappointed to hear about the delay, as opponents had already put in a great deal of time and energy.

But there was a silver lining for opponents, he said.

“A lot of people were gone for the week on spring break, so more time will get more people to know about it and react to it, so that’s a good thing,” he said.

The transition from one food service business to another in a space smaller than 1,500 square feet normally wouldn't require the need for a Conditional Use Permit and a public hearing. But planning department officials said that because so many of the city's regulations have changed over the past 43 years, Patel and Subway had to go through the public hearing process.

The 411: The City Council’s hearing on Subway’s appeal of the Planning Commission’s denial of its request for a conditional use permit – however brief it might be – is set for Monday, April 16 at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. Watch the meeting live or archived online by clicking here.

Jal Marie April 15, 2012 at 11:44 AM
Even though I do not live in Mill Valley I have always felt that downtown Mill Valley is a special place. I agree with you on many issues concerning fast food establishments, not only do they serve a poorer quality food but most often the owner of the franchise is not from the area. I have seen so often where one fast food establishment moves in an area then others follow and each franchise has owners from other areas and what typically happens is that area is no longer controlled by local business residence but by people who do not even live in the area many times out of state. It is simply bad business for any locality to allow out of town franchise owners to run the business climate. This puts local business resident owners at a disadvantage over their own business by out of town politics by large corporations.
Citizen April 15, 2012 at 02:40 PM
I recommend Joyce Kleiner's excellent column, "Sub-dividing Mill Valley" (http://joycekleiner.com/2012/03/16/sub-dividing-mill-valley-2/). I have mixed feelings about the Subway, mainly because we are holding it to different standards than the other downtown shops. My beloved Mill Valley Market, for example, has amazing local produce, but also a great selection of imported snacks and treats that are neither local nor healthy. Peet's is a large chain, too. I can find an $8 sandwich, a $17 hamburger, $100 T-shirts, and $300 jeans in downtown Mill Valley. Subway is affordable with transparent nutrition information, both pluses in my mind. I'm not actually pro-Subway, but the elitist mob mentality of the detractors is off-putting, to say the least. I am curious, though, about Ms. Thomas' comment--if the landlord has had other viable offers, why has the space been empty so long?
Doug Canepa April 17, 2012 at 12:21 AM
In all this debate there is one misconception that we would like to address. Indeed one can purchase an inexpensive lunch downtown. For example here at the Mill Valley Market you can buy a sandwich with cheese for $5.49, an all beef hot dog with the fixins for $2.99, burrittos, quesadilla, salads, breakfast sandwich can all be bought for $5.29 or less. Any number of drinks can be had for less than a dollar. If you want "fast food" go to our website and email us your order. It will be waiting when you arrive. The point is you can get a wholesome, good tasting, inexpensive meal downtown. I'm sure other food outlets downtown have more low priced food as well.
Tina April 18, 2012 at 07:07 PM
Ms Thomas. Let us talk about those "other offers" ok? Are you privy to them? Do you know what they are? Were any terms agreed upon? Were "they" a good fit to the downtown area? Were you a part of the negotiating of those offers? Did you answer "All" the phone calls we have recieved about the availability of this space? Yes, I am one of the owners of this building. I do not remember seeing you in the office. Tina Ward
Tina April 18, 2012 at 07:09 PM
Citizen, Ms. Thomas's comment has no validity. Read my reply to her comment. Tina


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