Thursday, June 5, 2008

Plans Bring Anti-Chain Store Concerns

Ordinance invoked as debate breaks out plans presented to build mini-mart, self-serve car wash

By Nao Braverman
The owner of the Union 76 gas station on Maricopa Highway across from the Ojai Valley Shopping Center may be the second property owner to feel the consequence of Ojai’s chain store ordinance, which passed about six months ago.
Neil Abasi proposed to remodel his service station and construct a mini-mart and self-serve car wash on the premises at Wednesday night’s Planning Commission meeting. Commissioners, who were mostly lukewarm about the concept and generally disapproved of the design, might not be able to pass the project anyway, if it falls under the category of a fast-food chain establishment.
Subway, the first chain business to turn away from Ojai because of the chain store ordinance, never even braved a planning meeting. But Abasi is not yet sure his outfit will fall under the category of fast-food, a type of chain business that the ordinance prohibits outright,
“It all depends on what is sold at the mini-mart,” said city manager Jere Kersnar. “If he has soda machines and hot dogs, then he is selling fast food at the gas station, which is already a chain. If he has chips and soda cans it’s OK because that’s just retail.”
In order to make the additions to his gas station, Abasi needs a zone change from the current designation of “business professional,” to “general commercial,” to allow for the mini-mart.
“What you are asking for is a very significant change to the property,” said Planning Chair Paul Crabtree. “So if we are going to allow you to make all those changes, let’s make it good.”
Abasi left the meeting with encouragement for a remodel, but not the one he had brought forth. If the chain store ordinance was a hindrance to his plans, it was little in comparison with the Planning Commission’s design requirements, which his plans certainly did not meet.
“You are dealing with a highly visible corner,” said Commissioner Steven Foster. “You are going to have to jump into the creative well and come up with something that gets us on board, because right now I don’t think it’s happening.”
In other planning news commissioners disapproved the design for a fairly massive two-story single family residence with a second rental unit at 309 S. Montgomery St., because its style was too much like that of the nearby Los Arboles complex, and because it had a wall separating it from the street.
Commissioners did approve a subdivision of the former site of Clausen Funeral Home at 310, 312, and 316 E. Matilija St., now housing Theater 150. Property owner Jim Exon proposes to divide the property into four lots, separating the main building, now Theater 150, and three lots in back, which were once residences.
Four smaller lots would “increase the possibility of individual owner-occupied small business opportunities in downtown Ojai, and deter the future possibility for large development at this location,” Exon wrote in a letter to commissioners.
With the increasing vacancies downtown, particularly on Matilija Street, such a subdivision may make the property more affordable to prospective business owners.
Scott Eicher, chief executive officer of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce, said he supported the subdivision as it would lend itself to smaller businesses, which fits with Ojai’s frame of mind.
Realtor Larry Wilde also agreed, adding that Exon was interested in doing what’s best for the community and was not “out to make a quick buck.”


Anonymous said...

Isn't it rich! We're so worried about "chain stores" but of course we exempt real estate offices (C-21, etc.)and allow them to propagate. Von's Market is so undersized that we willfully drive to Ventura to complete our shopping, upon finding that the local Von's store shelves are empty. Abasi (and other retailers, like Starr Market)should be thinking about constituitional "takings" of their property - governmental interference - and claims for damages...

Anonymous said...

I don't drive to Ventura for groceries, nor do I shop at Vons. Not when there are so many other great stores right here in Ojai: Starr, Westridge, Rainbow Bridge. The last thing we need is another liquor store/mini mart. If he can bring something well-designed that offers value to Ojaians, why not?