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Commission Backs Bank of the West in Alto Center - Discovery Shop to Close Aug. 31

Bank garners approval for its second branch in Marin and center will re-stripe the parking lot to add 13 more spaces. The future of the Discovery Shop, which was in Mill Valley for the 20 years, is uncertain.

The Mill Valley Planning Commission unanimously approved a permit Monday night for Bank of the West to open a branch in the , signaling both the bank's arrival in Mill Valley and the end of the 20-year run at the center for the American Cancer Society's .

Discovery Shop officials, who had been expecting to move out of 761 East Blithedale Ave. in the coming weeks due to a rent hike they said they couldn't afford, had hoped to remain open briefly on a month-to-month basis if the commission had denied the bank's permit application.

Now, according to assistant manager Elaine Neuwirth, "We're definitely closing Aug. 31 and our future is very much up in the air."

Neuwirth said they'd hoped to move the shop to the long-vacant 360 Miller Ave. space but that option was taken off the table when the commission approved a permit later Monday night for a Pilates Pro Works studio to open there.

"We hope to open another shop here but we have no idea when or where, unfortunately," Neuwirth said.

According to Discovery Shop manager Beverly Konkoff, who has been with the organization for 20 years and at the Mill Valley location for the past six years, the shop couldn't afford a Sept. 1 rent hike that would push its monthly rent to close to $15,000 a month for the 2,600-square-foot space.

As for Bank of the West, the Alto center branch will be its second in Marin, along with its branch at 494 Magnolia Ave. in Larkspur.

The commission's hearing on the bank's application was fairly brief, with the discussion focusing on the additional parking spaces required for a bank over a retail shop. A 2,600-square-foot bank requires 13 parking spaces versus the shop's 10 spaces under the city's regulations.

To account for that, the owner of that portion of the Alto center plans to re-stripe the parking lot to increase the number of spaces from 78 to 91 by creating 16 compact spaces, of which that section currently has none.

At Monday's meeting, commissioner John McCauley expressed his concern that the parking situation at the Alto Shopping center would become out of control.

"I’ve seen a number of accidents at a parking lot in Corte Madera because it’s not well-desgined," he said. "My concern here is that if we add more density to the area, the citizens in town will find this to be a very difficult parking lot."

McCauley said he was concerned that the lot will become too dense and uncomfortable and questioned whether the proposed compact spaces met parking standards.

Planning Director Mike Moore clarified that the application would be approved only on the condition that the bank revised its plan to make sure parking spaces comply with city standards.

"We would simply comment on the building permit application that the stalls didn’t meet the city standards and that they would have to revise their plan," he said. "We’ve taken your comments and will make sure the parking situation meets the standards."

The impending closure of the Discovery Shop and arrival of Bank of the West is the latest twist in the Alto center. The portion of it that includes the Discovery Shop was  in April 2011 for more than $12 million. The 19,886-square-foot section that was sold includes the spaces between the  and , including  and , as well as the perpendicular strip  with the Discovery Shop,  and , among others.

The shopping center has a particularly complicated ownership structure, with five different groups owning sections of the center, as Whole Foods, Bank of America, the Post Office, Rite Aid, the shops between Rite Aid and Whole Foods are all owned separate.

Susie August 15, 2012 at 04:12 PM
The thought of adding 13 more spaces would already make a cramped and very, very busy center, esp. on weekends is craziness. Even if you "redesign" the spaces to fit compact cars is unrealistic. When spaces become less available, people will park where they can, and typically their car just fits, making it a tighter squeeze for everyone else to get in. You already have people parking along the tree median b/c that's the only space to park. With Whole foods, the post office and the farmers market at CVS, you're lucky to find a space at all - and adding 13 more will make a very congested parking lot even more so!!!! As to the Corte Madera lot. I have to agree, it's a very badly designed parking lot.
Magoo August 15, 2012 at 05:24 PM
So many of the parking spaces are being used by people who work there, although there could be some who leave their car there and do a ride share commute. I go in the parking lot and it fairly full. So I expect there are alot of people in Whole Foods. But I find out there's very few customers in there.

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