Additional office space at 400 Main St. will have to wait. The Los Altos Planning Commission voted unanimously last week to hold the discussion over to the next meeting to allow the city attorney to review the ramifications of amending the zoning code.
The space in question is the former site of Pharmaca, which closed last fall only two years into a 10-year lease. The property owner, Jeff Morris, is looking to lease the 3,000-square-foot space to Keller Williams Real Estate. However, 400 Main, located in the commercial retail sales zone district, falls under a zoning code that prohibits office space on the ground floor.
In late November, the Los Altos City Council approved a conditional-use permit that allowed Morris to lease a ground-floor office at 400 Main to the Heising-Simons Foundation. The argument was that it would not displace a retail tenant because the space had remained vacant since the building’s construction.
At the Jan. 25 meeting, the Planning Commission and city staff seemed to apply similar reasoning.
“Due to its vacancy, this proposed use would not be replacing retail,” Planning Services Manager Zachary Dahl said of a potential Keller Williams occupancy.
He argued that the strip of First Street the building fronts has historically been used for service, commercial and office purposes.
Commissioner Ronit Bodner, however, was concerned that approving Morris’ use permit would be inconsistent with the zoning code.
“I’m supportive of office (space) being on this stretch,” she said. “What I want is consistency. There’s a lot of folks who have had vacancies in downtown Los Altos. ... There are people who have really been struggling, and the notion that you could put office (space) in every vacant retail space in our downtown – they would be able to fill it very quickly.”
Bodner wasn’t the only one asking for consistency from staff. Several other commissioners questioned whether the zoning should be changed in the area.
Dahl said city staff wanted to wait for the Downtown Vision project to wrap up before making any changes to the code. However, he added it was his understanding that the developer of any space on First Street between Safeway and Draeger’s Market could present a use permit to the commission for an opportunity that involves neither retail nor restaurant space.
Another problem the commissioners addressed was the language of the conditional-use appeal. The 400 Main building is unique because it has a Main Street address, causing it to fall in the commercial retail sales zone district, but it fronts the First Street corridor.
Commissioner Phoebe Bressack said that while she supports the concept of bringing office space to this strip of downtown, she does not support the language in the use permit.
At that point, the commission wanted to consult with City Attorney Chris Diaz, who did not attend the meeting, much to the distress of the commission.
“This is not the first time that we’re not going to be able to potentially finish up the same night because the lawyer’s not there,” Commissioner Sally Meadows said.
In the end, the commission voted to direct city staff to clarify the language in regard to the First Street corridor and postpone the agenda item to a future meeting. If the commission grants Morris’ request for the use permit at its next meeting, the matter will not have to go before the Los Altos City Council because it involves the use of an existing commercial building, according to Dahl.
The next Planning Commission meeting is scheduled 7 p.m. Feb. 1.
Office use on hold in old Pharmaca spaceTown Crier File Photo If the Los Altos Planning Commission approves a conditional-use permit at its next meeting, Keller Williams Real Estate will move into the old Pharmaca location at 400 Main St., above.