Some San Anselmo council members recently agreed that downtown San Anselmo might be better without chain stores.
But if the town should officially restrict formula-retail establishments, and how it would do just that, hasn’t been determined. The council will discuss the topic again in July, according to Town Manager Debbie Stutsman.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, some council members were more interested in pursuing formula-retail restrictions than others.
Councilman Ford Greene said it seemed like a daunting project. “The task of defining all this stuff -- I’m not sure whether it’s one that we want to take on right now or not. The difficulty of attempting to execute this is daunting and draws a little bit of ambivalence in me.”
Councilwoman Lori Lopin said limiting formula retail could help keep San Anselmo’s small-town feel. “I do think it’s important to maintain downtown San Anselmo Avenue. … I’m not willing to say ‘we should shelf the whole thing.’ ”
Vice Mayor Kay Coleman said San Anselmo has much to preserve. “People say they love San Anselmo, they love coming to our town. I’m going to be dead and gone in 20 years and you all are going to have to look at what we want downtown San Anselmo to look like.”
Some town officials expressed concern that not allowing chains would only exacerbate the number of downtown vacancies. “Is what we’re doing for the public good or are we going to shoot ourselves in the foot and have more vacant storefronts? I hate to add another level of bureaucracy,” said interim Planning Director Diane Henderson.
McDonald’s vs. High Tech Burrito
The council discussed exactly what kind of formula retail is undesirable in town, mainly after hearing concerns from the founder of High Tech Burrito and one of the Red Hill Shopping Center owners.
Coleman said she didn’t see “big box” retailers as an issue. “We don’t have the population to support that kind of thing here. They aren’t interested in coming here.”
Councilman Jeff Kroot said San Anselmo's location, far from a freeway and “right off the beaten track,” has protected the town from a lot of chains.
High Tech Burrito Founder and President Greg Maples said he was concerned High Tech Burrito would be considered a chain. There’s interest in opening a High Tech Burrito in San Anselmo, he said. “I started [High Tech] on Miracle Mile some 20 years ago. Recently the lease came up for renewal and we let it go because we felt it wasn’t supporting our customer base. Since, we’ve been in the hunt for the right place. We feel San Anselmo would be a great alternative to Miracle Mile,” Maples told the council.
There are 12 High Tech Burritos in the Bay Area, Maples said. “We’re a success story from this area. We don’t want to be punished for that. We support the community.”
Kroot said an area that could be protected from formula retail is San Anselmo Avenue and a small portion of Sir Francis Drake Blvd near Bank Street, where Marinitas restaurant and other businesses are located.
“If we do this we have to do it in a thoughtful way,” Kroot said. “There’s a difference between a Subway and McDonald’s and something like High Tech Burrito.”
Mayor Tom McInerney agreed with his colleagues that downtown San Anselmo is where the anti-chain focus should be. “We, as a council, shouldn’t be in the position of picking and choosing which businesses come in, especially in Red Hill, which is a strip mall,” he said.
Redhill Shopping Center owner addresses ‘misconceptions’
During public comment, Tom Arntz, one of the owners of the Redhill Shopping Center, told the council he wanted to dispel some of the misconceptions that recently rose while he was out of the country. “What concerns me is that the idea of this ordinance has come from whatever happened at Red Hill … The Easy Street issue that came up had nothing to do with chain stores. It had only to do with their failing business. They hadn’t paid us any rent in a year-and-a-half and their lease ran out three years ago.”
Arntz said the center is a small business, where the ownership has never changed, and they are talking to local groups to fill vacancies.
He also said a rumor that Chipotle was moving into the center was just that: a rumor. “I had an unsolicited offer from Chipotle nine months ago, and it was financially the best offer by far, but we didn’t want them there. We don’t think that should be the focal point of the Red Hill Shopping Center. We’re looking for something with local flavor that will draw in people.”
One example, he said, is pizzeria and wine bar Pizzalina, which a San Anselmo resident .
Sausalito, Fairfax restrict chains
Henderson said planning staff research revealed that mostly tourist-oriented cities have a chain-store ban.
Fairfax and Sausalito are the only Marin towns with formula-retail ordinances.
In both towns, formula retail establishments must meet certain criteria to receive a conditional use permit.
The formula-retail debate recently became heated in Mill Valley, where , according to the Mill Valley Patch.