Propelled by a resounding display of resident opposition, the Mill Valley Planning Commission on Monday night unanimously denied a .
Franchisee Akki Patel had sought to open a Subway in the 930-square-foot space formerly occupied for 43 years by in July 2011. Buffeted by nearly two dozen people who spoke out against the proposal, the commission rejected the application, saying Subway would be both a “detriment to the health and general welfare of Mill Valley residents and specifically those in the (adjacent) area and … is inconsistent with the direction of the General Plan” because it could displace existing local businesses like .
“I didn’t have to think about this very long,” said Heidi Richardson, the chair of the commission. “To me it’s a no brainer … I can’t believe we would consider letting a corporate chain with deep pockets compete (with local businesses).”
“I just don’t think it fits in the downtown at all,” said Commissioner Barbara Chambers.
Patel signed a lease for 29 Miller Ave. with building owner Lynn Spaulding in December 2011. His application as the city sought data on the amount of customers similar-sized Subways in the area generate. Now he'll have to decide if he should appeal the commission’s decision to the City Council or look elsewhere. The franchise, which sought to be open 7 days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., would have been the second Subway in the area along with the .
That was one Subway too many for a steady stream of speakers Monday night, many of whom live in the nearby Parkwood neighborhood.
Michele Fogelman, a 37-year local resident, called the possibility of a Subway downtown “a blight on the pristine nature of what we’ve all worked so hard to preserve. It would change my whole reason for shopping downtown.”
Many residents said the commission’s approval of Subway would begin a slide down a slippery slope toward other fast-food restaurants and chains like McDonald’s. Such a slide would be a major detriment to local businesses like Mill Valley Market, which has already taken a hit in recent years with the June 2010 arrival of the second Whole Foods Market in town.
“They have been impacted by Whole Foods,” said longtime Laurelwood Ave. resident and Principal , noting the market’s longtime support for the school district. “I just can’t imagine the impact that this will have on the market yet again in a very small period of time.”
Summit Ave. resident , the editor of Edible Marin & Wine Country magazine, called the idea of Subway’s food being trucked in from a distribution center outside of Marin “frankly horrifying,” saying that “we have something very special here.”
Matt Holmes, co-owner of in the same shopping center as the proposed Subway, said while he didn’t have an opinion about Subway, “I do have an opinion of wanting to be in a vibrant downtown that is well leased.”
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 application served as a litmus test of sorts for recent City Hall discussions about how chain businesses fit into the ongoing overhaul of the city’s zoning ordinances. At its Feb. 13 meeting, the commission backed an amended zoning ordinance that adds four criteria for “formula businesses.” Those included not detracting from “existing balance and diversity of business in the commercial district” and not creating “an over-concentration of similar types of businesses.”
Richardson said the community will have a chance during the city’s to weigh in on how chain businesses should be regulated in town.
“If comes up and the community feels differently, then so be it,” she said. “But that’s not the read I’m getting now.”
Earlier in the evening, the commission delayed a decision on a three-condo development that was proposed nearly a year ago for a lot on Laurelwood Avenue, just down the street from the proposed Subway. The commission directed property owner Jan Werner to make more changes related to the size of a 1,500-square-foot unit, as well as the landscaping on the Miller Ave. side of the project.