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Subway Showdown Hits City Hall Tonight

City Council considers an appeal by a franchisee for sandwich giant to open a deli in downtown space formerly occupied by Baskin-Robbins.

Drama lovers might want to skip the TV tonight and head down to for what looks to be a potent showdown over a .

The City Council is set to consider an of the to deny his request for a conditional use permit (CUP) to open a deli in the 930-square-foot space at 29 Miller Ave., the former longtime home of Baskin-Robbins. Each side in the battle shows no sign of backing down.

On one side, Subway opponents have presented the city with a combined online and offline petition campaign that has garnered more than 1,000 signatures, with 637 of them coming via Change.org and triggering a form letter on the signers' behalf to the City Clerk.

Those opponents have registered a litany of complaints against Subway, including claims that it would generate too much traffic and trash, didn't serve quality food, is a chain store that is incongruent with the character of downtown and would negatively impact local businesses like  and . Approving a Subway would put the city on a slippery slope that would turn downtown into a chain-laden strip mall, opponents have argued.

"The overwhelming public response in just 23 days is a strong indication of your constituents’ opposition to this conditional use permit for Subway," Walsh said in a May 3 letter to the city. "As you review the names of each individual signing the petition, including many prominent Mill Valley residents and business owners, please note that every petition signer expects their voice to be heard equally in your deliberation."

On the other side are Patel and Lynn Spaulding, whose family owns the shopping center where Subway hopes to open. They're touting the fact that the city has no anti-chain business ordinance on the books and that the original staff report on the matter recommended approval.

Spaulding has lawyered up, hiring Santa Rosa attorney Jeremy Olsan to represent her at the hearing, hoping to press the issue that the city would infringe on her property rights by rejecting the sandwich chain as a potential tenant.

"There's nothing in the city's General Plan or ordinances that can prohibit a restaurant like this from opening here," Spaulding said after the commission's denial. "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?"

In the middle of all that are the five members of the City Council who must balance the city's regulations with the outpouring of opposition to Subway. None of the councilmembers are eligible to seek re-election after their current term under the city's unwritten tradition of no more than two consecutive terms.

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 .

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.

The proposed Subway comes at a time when the Planning Commission is in the midst of revising its zoning regulations regarding chain businesses, which it defines as those having seven or more locations and standardization of design, services and products. Under the proposed changes, those businesses would not be banned but face a higher threshold than non-chains to get approval.

The 411: The Mill Valley City Council meets at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, 26 Corte Madera Ave. Click here to watch the meeting online.

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