Online Extra: Political Notes: Upper Market Starbucks fight lands at planning
by Matthew S. Bajko
The first test of new rules against chain stores along upper Market Street is headed to the San Francisco Planning Commission Thursday.
The oversight body is set to rule during its May 9 meeting on Starbucks' application to open its fourth location in the city's gay Castro district. It has two stand-alone coffeehouses in the area as well as a kiosk inside the nearby Safeway store.
The Seattle-based chain wants to open the new store at the corner of Market and Sanchez streets. The storefront at 2201 Market Street is currently leased to the home furnishings store Industrialists.
Based on the new restrictions the planning commission adopted last month, if a formula retailer brings the concentration of chain stores within a 300-foot radius to 20 percent or greater, then it would not be recommended for approval. The rule applies to chain stores looking to open on Market Street between Octavia Boulevard and Castro Street.
The company could still seek a conditional use permit from the planning commission, but without significant neighborhood support, it would likely face an uphill battle. It can also appeal the commission's decision to the Board of Supervisors.
According to the planning staff's calculations, the proposed Starbucks location triggers the new rule. With five chains within 300 feet – Peet's Coffee and Tea, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Community-A Walgreen's Pharmacy, Chase Bank, and Verizon Wireless – Starbucks would bring the concentration of formula retail to 21 percent.
Planning staff is, therefore, recommending that the panel reject Starbuck's application.
The decision had been expected, as the Bay Area Reporter in February first reported on the planning department's opposition to seeing Starbucks open on a prominent intersection along Market Street. That reasoning is laid out in the staff report released last week.
"The project would be detrimental to the neighborhood by occupying a prominent corner lot with a formula retail use that uses standardized color schemes, decor and signage that will detract from the distinctive character of the upper Market neighborhood which includes primarily local, independent retail businesses," states the report. "The project would displace an existing business that is independent and locally owned."
Staff also have determined that the upper Market area is already "well served" by existing coffeehouses, such as Church Street Cafe, Peet's, Sweet Inspiration, and Cafe Flore.
The proposal has garnered fierce opposition from nearby residents and business owners who see no need for Starbucks to open another store in the gayborhood. A petition against the new location netted 4,200 signatures.
The Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association and the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District both oppose the store.
"Neighborhood character is lost as most businesses, or at least the most visible, become generic," DTNA President Patricia Tura wrote in a letter outlaying her group's objections to the proposed Starbucks.
Starbucks' officials counter their location on 18th Street near Castro Street is bursting at the seams and they need additional space to meet customer demand. They have marshaled their own supporters for the store, with 453 people signing a pro-Starbucks petition.
The planning department received 59 letters in support, among them ones from the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro business group and the Buena Vista Neighborhood Association.
Phil Jaber, the owner of Philz Coffee, which has a store on 18th Street, also is supportive, writing in a letter that his company "is not afraid of Starbucks" and believes that "competiveness is complimentary."
The new coffeehouse would be 2,579 square feet of indoor space with seating for 50 people. The existing building would not be expanded but would be upgraded; the second level is slated to become non-useable space.
An additional outdoor area with seating for 28 measuring 408 square feet would replace the existing six parking spaces along Sanchez and wrap around onto Market.
Due to the deterioration of the overhead structure above it, the parking area has been closed off for months.
It would be the company's 71st store in San Francisco. The hours of operation are slated to be 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
The planning commission meeting begins at noon Thursday in Room 400 of City Hall. The Starbucks store is the 10th agenda item to be heard that day, so the hearing likely will not begin until late in the afternoon.
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