In the first test of new rules aimed at limiting the number of chain stores along upper Market Street, the Planning Commission early this evening (Thursday, May 9) rejected a proposed Starbucks.
The commission voted 5-1 to uphold a staff recommendation not to approve the project. As the Bay Area Reporter has noted, the proposed Starbucks at 2201 Market Street triggers a restriction that any formula retailer that brings the concentration of chain stores within a 300-foot radius to 20 percent or greater would not be recommended for approval. The rule applies to Market Street between Octavia and Castro Street.
According to the planning staff report, the new Starbucks would bring the percentage of nearby chain stores to 21 percent. The staff review also determined that the upper Market area is already “well served” by existing coffeehouses.
Commissioner Rich Hillis said the panel needed to listen to the community objections to the store. He said the vote was not meant to be against Starbucks.
“It is broader and about the feel of that commercial corridor and making sure it stays diverse and unique,” he said.
Also voting against the store was Commission Vice President Cindy Wu, saying it was important to uphold the staff’s recommendation and follow the new policy that was recently approved.
Commission President Rodney Fong agreed with his colleagues’ reasonings for opposing the store.
“I feel obligated to follow that policy and support it,” said Fong.
Commissioner Michael J. Antonini was the lone no vote. Commissioner Gwyneth Borden was absent. He saw the objections against Starbucks as “protectionism”and tried to have the item postponed for 90 days to see it a compromise could be reached, but that was rejected.
He called the proposed building and signage “beautiful” and said it is the right fit for the corner storefront.
“Before there was Starbucks there were very few coffee shops,” he said. “Now there are spin offs for a lot of other chains and a lot of independent coffee shops modeled after Starbucks.”
He also spoke out against the new rule, saying the 300 foot radius is too narrow and should include a larger area.
“It lumps all formula retail together,” he said, noting that the area is not getting a “hyper concentration” of a certain kind of business.
Starbucks representative Phil Burnett noted that the company has been in San Francisco for decades, provides 1,400 jobs and has been a “vocal supporter” of marriage equality. He said the new store would add 25 jobs to the city and help beautify the prominent corner storefront at Market and Sanchez.
“It will be a beneficial, desirable addition to the neighborhood,” said Burnett. “Our customers have been asking for more space in the neighborhood. They also want room for meetings and mobile office space.”
It would be the fourth Starbucks location in the Castro district. There are two stand alone stores, one on 18th Street and one in the Safeway shopping plaza on Market Street, with a kiosk inside the grocery store.
“The site is not an under-served area for coffee or baked goods. It would arguably not be an under-served area for Starbucks,” said Hut Landon, executive director of the San Francisco Locally Owned Merchants Alliance. “It will cost jobs at other stores they will compete with.”
The commission heard testimony from the public for close to 90 minutes. More than 25 people spoke in support of the Seattle-based coffee chain’s proposal; another 16 people spoke out against it.
The hearing included accusations from one man that the remodel of the 18th Starbucks, known as “Bearbucks” because of the hairy, beefy men who hang out there, was done to “drive the bears out” because the new seating isn’t big enough for their “bums.”
At the other end of the spectrum, an owner of a nearby hair salon said he welcomed seeing Starbucks move into that spot as it would attract more daytime foot traffic and improve problems with people defecating at the property. He noted that a “sign posted there said please do not shit here.”
Starbucks can appeal the commission’s decision to the Board of Supervisors and seek approval for the necessary permits from the supervisors. It is doubtful it would win a favorable vote before the board, though, as gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener backed the formula retail rule change that the planning commission adopted.