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Subway Backers to Appeal Downtown Denial to City Council

Owner of Miller Ave. shopping center hopes council reconsiders Planning Commission's decision to reject Subway's attempt to open in the old Baskin-Robbins' space.

Lynn Spaulding was left aghast on Feb. 27 when the to open an outlet of the deli chain in the downtown Miller Ave. shopping center her family owns.

As Spaulding sees it, the staff report (attached at right) on the matter made it clear that the city has no existing regulations that prohibit Subway from opening in the space, despite a huge turnout by opponents at the commission meeting. That opposition largely centered on three points: Subway would produce too much traffic and trash, and chain stores like Subway were incongruent with the character of downtown. 

"There's nothing in the city's General Plan or ordinances that can prohibit a restaurant like this from opening here," Spaulding said. "And Baskin-Robbins (which occupied the space for 40 years until it closed in July 2011) was a chain. What's the difference? Anything you put in there that does well is going to generate some trash and some traffic - Baskin Robbins certainly did. Are you saying I can't put anything in there?"

Spaulding said Tuesday that she and Subway franchisee Akki Patel intend to file an appeal this week of the of (CUP) for the 930-square-foot space at 29 Miller. Because the space is smaller than 1,500 square feet and isn't a change of use, it normally wouldn't need a CUP and a public hearing. But city officials said that because so many of the city's regulations have changed over the past four decades, Patel and Subway had to go through the public hearing process.

That public hearing process attracted a slew of critics of the plan, many of whom live in the Parkwood neighborhood behind the center. Some residents called Subway's possible arrival “a blight on the pristine nature of what we’ve all worked so hard to preserve," warning its potential negative impact on local businesses like and the new .

The critics won over the commission, with Heidi Richardson, its chairperson, calling the decision a "no brainer. I can’t believe we would consider letting a corporate chain with deep pockets compete (with local businesses).”

Spaulding rejected the argument that she should lease to a "mom and pop" business instead of a chain, saying she hasn't been able to find a suitor beyond Subway that could make it work. She said three different business owners sought the space as an ice cream shop but couldn't make the numbers work unless she lowered the rent to below $2.50 per square foot. Subway is paying around "the mid $3s" per square foot, Spaulding said, and she simply couldn't afford to go any lower than that.

"Subway wasn't my first choice but they ended up being my only choice," she said. "Citizens can't have it both ways - I don't have other options here, and the other business in the center and in downtown need businesses nearby that create foot traffic."

Patel's Subway franchise, which sought to be open 7 days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., would be the second Subway in the area along with the .

The application serves 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.” That ordinance hasn't yet come before the City Council for approval.

Richardson said at the Feb 27 meeting that 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.”

Larry Bathgate March 07, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Definitely NOT Mill Valley Style! Good riddance to Baskin-Robbins, too! We would not want to despoil Mill Valleys rep as the most chichi enclave on God's green earth!
james thomas March 07, 2012 at 07:55 PM
I encourage all who are interested in this to watch the rebroadcast of the meeting on the city of mill valleys website. It was a very well attended meeting with overwhelming opposition to subway. I am encouraged to see Businesses like Boo Koo doing well in the center and hope a business that has the good will of customers and residents alike will lease the vacant spot. - Jimo Thomas Parkwood neighborhood
Magoo March 07, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Chain stores? What about Peet's Coffee there? The owner should sue. She should not have to pay local taxes on the property they won't allow her to rent.
hab3 March 07, 2012 at 09:39 PM
Here is where the argument falls apart: "she simply couldn't afford to go any lower than that." Perhaps the landlord will share her financials to substantiate the claim. Business in the business district depends on the maintaining a downtown that is attractive to tourists and residents alike. Going to the lowest level of retail (t-shirts and fast food like at fisherman's wharf) is not in the interest of anybody. If you play in the community, you should respect community standards. I bet you can still make a lot of money regardless.
Bob Burton (a former Mayor) March 07, 2012 at 11:57 PM
Like most other residents, I would certainly prefer not to have large chain or franchise businesses located in our downtown area, and particularly not fast food restaurants. However, I believe the city has been very delinquent in recent years in updating its ordinances, and as those ordinances currently stand, I do not believe the city has any valid legal grounds for denying Subway's application. The city faced a similar dilemma with the Alain Pinel realty office, where the city untimately had to give in and grant them a permit despite its desires to the contrary. Conditional use permits run with the land, not with any particular occupant or business. It's not clear to me, therefore, why Subway had to go through this approval process in the first place, other than for design review. That's too bad, but unfortunately, I fear that's the way it is.


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