In a meeting Wednesday evening, the city's Zoning Administrator is set to approve an office developer's request to use a downtown retail space for an employee break room instead of a cafe, shop or restaurant.
The move by developer Roger Burnell for his new building at 902 Villa Street has caused some concern among downtown residents, who say the 932-square-foot space should be home to a cafe, public meeting space, restaurant or shop.
"This is our vibrant downtown?" asked an email alerting downtown residents from resident Julie Lovins.
The space has been vacant since the building was leased by Facebook-owned WhatsApp. While city staff originally pushed for the retail space to be included in the project, they now recommend approval of Burnell's request to use the ground floor space as an employee break room.
"This small retail space will improve the pedestrian friendliness of the building," wrote a city staff member in a July 2012 City Council report for Burnell's project, which was controversial for years as it sought to replace a historic home on the site, and sought to tower above Chez TJ, the neighboring gourmet restaurant.
Called a "commercial/restaurant space," the report adds that "The applicant provided this area at staff's request." It also allowed Burnell to have an exemption from providing an additional 46 required parking spaces, according to city documents, which add that "parking in-lieu fees" must be paid if the space is not occupied by commercial, retail or restaurant use.
Increasing office development is slowly eating away at what's considered to be a key component of a vibrant downtown: ground floor retail space. Meyer Appliance was a fixture for years in a Castro Street building that was taken over by tech company Quixey. The former PayPal building at Bryant and Dana was originally slated to include ground floor retail space. A few blocks south a small Castro Street strip mall once home to a half dozen small businesses was allowed to be renovated for office space. And across the street from there a small gym near Starbucks was forced out to make way for higher office rents.
The meeting begins at 4 p.m. on June 25 in City Hall's second floor plaza conference room.