http://pleasantonweekly.com/print/story/print/2012/05/04/council-votes-to-restrict-new-banks-from-locating-on-main-street


Pleasanton Weekly

News - May 4, 2012

Council votes to restrict new banks from locating on Main Street

Rules meant to encourage more retail, restaurants in downtown district

by Jeb Bing

The Pleasanton City Council voted 5-0 Tuesday night to place restrictions on banks, savings and loan associations and other financial institutions that want to open new facilities on Main Street.

The new amendment to the ordinance governing commercial districts would require those types of businesses to seek conditional use permits, a costly and time-consuming process that would require public hearings before the city's Planning Commission and likely another review by the City Council.

The new rules came at the request of the Pleasanton Downtown Association and were approved in March by the Planning Commission. They do not apply to the seven financial institutions already located downtown.

The ordinance amendment also will not allow any new financial institutions from locating in any block on Main Street where another similar type business already is located.

As it is, financial institutions, including banks, can open new facilities in any office or commercially zoned district in Pleasanton, including downtown. From 1973 to 1995, in fact, the city government required that banks and savings and loan associations first locate a branch in the downtown district before they would be allowed to open facilities elsewhere in the city.

But the Pleasanton Downtown Association asked for the zoning rule change after Opus Bank reportedly sought to open a branch in the Past Time Pool building on Main Street. That would have added an eighth bank downtown.

Although Opus said it was not interested in the Past Time Pool building, which is for sale, the PDA and others continued with their effort to change the rules to force a detailed review of any applications for new financial institutions downtown. The PDA wants more retail stores downtown, not banks, and especially seeks to reserve key corner locations on Main Street for new retail operations and restaurants. Banks now are located on seven corner downtown locations.

The PDA argued that banks don't attract shoppers. Bankers' hours from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and often on Saturday mornings are much shorter than those of retail shops and restaurants.

The ordinance amendment essentially asks the Planning Commission to make an "informed decision" about the placement of banks, not ban them outright, explained Nelson Fialho, city manager.

The change would not prohibit banks downtown but simply allows some evaluation so that shopping, dining and entertainment-related uses such as restaurants and retail are not permanently eliminated from the downtown, Fialho said.

"Banks are vitally important, but the exact location is also a relevant consideration," he added. "The (ordinance) change would provide time for that type of deliberation."

Although no one spoke against the measure during Tuesday night's public hearing, Councilman Jerry Thorne cast a reluctant vote for the ordinance amendment after he and others on the council made word changes in the document. These included changing "discourage" banks from locating downtown to "encourage" more retail at downtown properties, particularly corner properties where most of the seven downtown banks are now located.

Property owners of downtown banks also will now have a full year to find similar tenants before a new bank at the same location would have to undergo the conditional use permit process. The earlier ordinance amendment version gave property owners only 180 days.

"While I fully understand the need to have more retail businesses downtown, I still have concern with this ordinance amendment," said Councilman Thorne.

"We already have task forces reviewing the need for more downtown hospitality and another looking at historic buildings downtown," Thorne said. "Since I came on the council in 2005, we have been looking at ways to streamlining the permitting process. What we are doing tonight is adding to the complications."

But Councilman Matt Sullivan said he not only supports the new rules but would like to see them made even stronger, especially when it comes to saving choice corner locations for retail shops and restaurants.

In the end, the council agreed to adopt the ordnance amendment but also asked Fialho and his staff to develop a long-range plan for the downtown that could lead to an update of the Downtown Specific Plan that guides downtown development and was enacted more than 10 years ago.

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