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Banks could get the boot: Committee targets grandfathered businesses in downtown area


Photo By: Elliott Burr/Town Crier
Photo Elliott Burr/Town Crier An ad hoc committee could decide that nonconforming service-related buildings, like banks, should be phased out.

Some downtown Los Altos businesses, including banks, may have to find new homes.

The Los Altos City Council unanimously named an ad hoc committee March 13 to study the feasibility and legality of placing amortization periods on properties and businesses that do not conform to city code.

Amortization, according to a report by Councilmen Ron Packard and Jarrett Fishpaw, is a technique that allows the removal of nonconforming businesses after a designated period of time.

The report specifically cites city code 14.48.30, which prohibits personal service businesses on “ground-floor building space that fronts directly onto First Street, Main Street or State Street” – designated as a Commercial Retail Sales zone. The code was last revised in October 1988.

Packard listed the Bank of the West and Chase Bank buildings at the corners of Main and Third, the Masonic Hall and the Costume Bank as examples of nonconforming uses. Those businesses were grandfathered in when the code was revised 24 years ago.

The overarching goal is to increase “the retail experience available to shoppers in the downtown core,” according to the report.

“We’ve got some dinosaurs that are preventing the expansion of retail,” Packard told the Town Crier.

He added that the bulk and look of the bank buildings at Third and Main create “a dead zone” in terms of retail activity.

Chase Bank representatives declined to comment on the issue.

In an email to the Town Crier, Bank of the West spokesman Jim Cole wrote, “It is too soon for us to comment on the Los Altos City Council’s proposal.”

The five-member Contiguous Retail Committee, led by Packard and Fishpaw, will include one member each from the Los Altos Village Association and the Chamber of Commerce, as well as a community member. Packard cited Passerelle Investment Co. Director Amanda Tevis as a possible choice.

Packard said the committee would take an in-depth look at the legality of imposing amortization periods on the businesses in question.

During city council discussions on a budget for the committee, Packard suggested an initial sum of $20,000 for attorney consultations. He expects to request a complete budget within a month.

Any recommendation to adopt an amortization technique must account for financial ramifications that would affect the businesses and property owners, he added.

Packard is eager to get the committee’s work under way.

“I won’t let the grass grow on this one,” Packard said. “I’ll move it along.”

The committee, estimated to require four months, expects to schedule at least one public meeting to garner input from residents and business leaders.

The greater good of the downtown area trumps any potential animosity toward the idea, according to Packard.

“I don’t think we should shy away from doing the right thing for fear of being insensitive to property owners,” he said.

 

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