Corner Market Reality or Myth?

I love the idea of walking from my front door to pick up a homemade deli sandwich and some local veggies. But the reality is corner markets in older neighborhoods around town offer lottery tickets, cheap alcohol and phone cards. So why does Santa Rosa think higher residential density housing located in the downtown core near mass transit will someday support this?

San Francisco has these markets. The Haight, North Beach, Marina, Cow Hollow, Castro are examples of neighborhoods with small corner markets that have endured. These merchants have to make money to survive, and to make that money, they have to price their merchandise at levels higher than large chain stores. The major ingredients to the success of the San Francisco corner markets are lots of people with a high level of discretionary spending in close proximity.

However, in Santa Rosa the recent closing of the Sky Hawk Village Market located within an upper middle class sub-division along State Hwy 12 is a set back for the “corner market” concept. The cold hard facts are that Santa Rosa will have to increase residential density way beyond the current sub-division levels to support strong corner markets. Manhattan has more than 27,000 people living in a square mile, San Francisco more than 15,000 and Santa Rosa less than 4,000.

Future mixed-use building in Santa Rosa will need to have ground floor retail spaces that are as small as 800 sq ft. Large spaces equal large leases, which can keep many operators from even thinking about opening up in downtown areas.

And finally, Santa Rosa must be aware of the mix of residential income levels that will surround these small stores. A corner market without customers will close sooner than later. Requiring the developers to provide for neighborhood-serving retail without providing the framework to support the merchant will ultimately prove to be bad planning.

How long is too long for non conforming uses?

Losing the ability to operate a business because the operation of that business does not conform to the long-range goals within a General Plan can be a shock. Commercial Real Estate agents understand the importance of finding a tenant quickly for a property owner when the property does not conform with a General Plan. However, not all property owners are aware of the consequences of an updated General Plan.

The Santa Rosa Community Development Department has stated that the current non-conforming policy within the Zoning Code allows existing non-conforming uses to remain in perpetuity, so long as the use was legally established and remains active. However, it requires non-conforming uses to convert to a conforming use if the non-conforming use has been discontinued for a continuous period of six months or more.

Some property owners don’t know or understand the consequences when General Plans are updated. The language within Santa Rosa planning documents may be modified to allow longer lapses to occur between non-conforming uses that do not conform with the General Plan. During tough economic times finding a new tenant can be a struggle but having to change the use of your property could be overwhelming.

Understanding the requirements of your local planning department is not something most business owners concern them selves with. Trying to undue the past is always more difficult and expensive. Property owners that have a clear understanding of their property’s zoning will have a chance of addressing future issues.

Can the Gateways Redevelopment Project Deliver?

February 25th, 2010  |  Commercial Property

The Santa Rosa Redevelopment Agency, after stumbling out of the starting gate, has taken the steps to start using redevelopment fund for the Gateways Project Area this year. But the question remains, “Can these funds help jumpstart the core business district of Santa Rosa and revitalize the project area?”

It seems so long ago that we heard talk of the Santa Rosa Gateways Redevelopment Project Area. The beginnings of this plan started in the early 2000s. The idea was to help property owners in the core business district make their properties more economically productive and help the City produce more affordable housing opportunities.

I served as the chairperson for the 15-member Community Advisory Committee from 2006 to 2007. We were to review and vote on the plan and then give recommendations to the City Council. Ultimately, the majority of the Community Advisory Committee did not recommend the plan. However, five members, myself included, voted for the plan and it was adopted by City Council.

Three years of court time, combined with an abundance of finger pointing, brings us to 2010. The City of Santa Rosa has lost general fund income from a downturn in sales tax revue during the last four years and wants those funds back. The Gateways Project Area businesses are now the focus of the Santa Rosa’s Redevelopment Agency to help provide more tax dollars.

Property owners within the boundaries of the Gateways can apply to use these funds to help clean up and improve their properties. In return, the Santa Rosa community benefits from an enhanced economic landscape. Sounds simple, but the devil is in the details. Which projects will surface to the top and deliver the goals laid out in the plan?

Redevelopment funds can be one tool to help property owners increase the worth of their investments. Small businesses and homeowners can take advantage of low-cost loans from the redevelopment agency that will provide for physical improvements to their properties. Large projects that use redevelopment funds will need to draw attention to the community. Their success will be determined by how well they meet the goals of the community.

The property owners that understand the pros and cons of using redevelopment funds will be better positioned to take advantage of the next economic upswing.

Santa Rosa’s Downtown Station Area Plan

February 25th, 2010  |  Commercial Property Transportation

How will the Santa Rosa City Council juggle the vision of the Downtown Station Area Specific Plan with the reality of the struggling economy? The Downtown Station Area Specific Plan was funded by the City of Santa Rosa and the Metropolitan Transit Committee. Santa Rosa’s Downtown Station Area Plan focuses on the Railroad Square station area and looks to increase ridership for the Sonoma Area Rail Transit commuter train. The plan also looks to decrease the green house gases by making improvements to pedestrian and bike infrastructure.

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