Fox Block Development Approved

Fox Harbor LLC proposed to redevelop approximately 1.47 acres of the City-owned triangle parcel located at the corner of Harbor Blvd and Ellis Place at the November 15 City Council meeting. As an asset covered by the Long Range Property management plan, the timing of the disposition of the property is governed by the Surplus Land Act and must be completed no later than December 31, 2022 per California State Law.

The triangle parcel, located directly north of Angelo’s and Vinci’s Ristorante, is currently used as a parking lot for the area known as the central business district or Restaurant Overlay District.

The proposed structure will consist of a new single-story structure arranged in a “V” shape, with a mezzanine level spanning Ellis Place and providing a stage and outdoor dining. The new building proposes to contain about 6,830 square feet of floor space with a height of 32 feet. The building would accommodate new restaurants, a full production brewery that will produce approximately 3,000 barrels of beer per year, and a tasting bar counter.

The Planning Commission approved this project on October 26 with additional conditions including: hours of operation from 7am to 10pm, Sunday through Thursday; and 7am to 11pm on Friday and Saturday. Non-amplified ambient noise will also have the same hours. All indoor operations are to be limited to 7am to 1am.

The recommendation by the Community and Economic Development staff is to approve the development of the properties and to authorize the city manager to carry out the development terms and perform the city’s obligations.

During public comments, Jane Rands said, “Right now, as you know, we’re still trying to figure out our new housing element and we know that we are being sued. We know that the state has a lot of criteria that they’re putting on our city. One of those criteria is more housing, and, specifically, more affordable housing.”

“One of the best ways to achieve affordable housing is through the use of city-owned land. We have an opportunity for using city-owned land for affordable housing. I have a bit of a concern about us moving forward with the commercial project at this site. We (already) have lots of restaurants, we have a brewery. What we don’t have is the necessary housing in our community,” said Rands, “I know this is pretty far down the line, and I know that you’re coming up against a deadline for the end of the year, but I would like you to rethink this whole plan that has been moving full steam with the presumption that the best use of our public land is for more commercial usage, whereas we could have the opportunity for more affordable housing.”

Jane Reifer said, “I’m really pretty surprised tonight that there are so few people who are here. I would have thought the public would be here in droves to discuss this issue because at the initial meetings to award the ENA there were many people who were all concerned about how this works out, and I think it’s part of a systemic issue in the City, and really throughout the state, the fact that the public notices are different now. Different environmental documents have been used.”

“For instance, this one is an exemption. I really don’t feel that should be fully the case for the properties adjacent to what you’re discussing tonight, there should have been a little bit more effort to look into what the impacts of these properties are. For instance, I love one that is happening already at the transportation center. They’re talking about mitigation measures which are trenching, shoring, and vibration protection for historic buildings. It was not included at all in tonight’s discussion because it was done with an infill development exemption. When we have historical buildings, those trump the exemptions and should be discussed. We did not have appropriate public notices,” said Reifer.

“I hope you still have time to discuss the course of this project. I’d like to see a more historic aesthetic, because this is a destination and the start of downtown,” said Reifer, “We don’t have to have a fun zone to have something that can look gracious and not necessarily just look like a suburban mall. I think that’s important. Normally, I think aesthetics are not part of this discussion, but we’re talking about our historic downtown. For the public benefits, this is public land. The City Council is in the driver’s seat and so are the taxpaying residents. We can ask for more when we have projects where we’re selling public land. It’s different if they are already developed, so I’m hoping that you can ask for a group pedestrian network throughout. The developers should pay for it, not the city. There should be creek restoration, at least aesthetically. It doesn’t have to be biologically, but aesthetically. We have brought this up many times with every ENA agreement. I want to know is the Fox Theater part of this discussion?”

Mayor Jung responded, “It is not part of the discussion. I just want to say that they did have a robust outreach and community engagement portion to their many-years-long development process, and I attended that as well. It was very well done, very informative. So, I suppose the argument to be made is that if you do the work in advance, there’s not much more to do.”

Councilmember Zahra said, “I’m confident that the developer will maintain an aesthetic that will blend in with the Fox Theater and enhance the local downtown.” Passed unanimously.