Goliath shook his fist, and David responded with a gesture of his own – backed up by a unanimous vote of the Sonoma Planning Commission.
It was the undercard on the agenda of the April 12 meeting – the main event was the Sonoma Cheese Factory’s effort to remodel its 70-year-old building on Spain Street. But that battle didn’t start until after 8 p.m., and early arrivals were treated to a tense standoff over the future of a homespun, slightly funky café and scooter shop at 455 W. Napa St., next to the Safeway parking lot.
Café Scooteria was making its second appearance on the matter before the Planning Commission, hoping to get approval for an application to modify its existing use permit to add extended hours, outdoor seating for 25, a fire pit and, possibly, an eventual wine and beer license.
The first hearing, on March 8, stymied the cafe’s application with a series of requests from the commission for clarification and the suggestion it drop its request for an alcohol component. But the day of the second hearing, on April 12, the morning e-mail brought a letter from Albertsons Corp., which owns Safeway and a number of other chain stores.
As anyone who has been to Café Scooteria for a drive-through latte, chai or pastry (and anecdotal evidence at the April 12 meeting suggested that included most of the people in the room, including commissioners), the Scooteria and Safeway have a pair of adjoining driveways (or “cutout,” in city-speak) on West Napa.
That apparently gave Natalie Mattei, a senior real estate manager for Albertsons, the opening to send a letter to the city on behalf of Safeway, Inc., with a list of four conditions on the proposal they felt “prepared to support.”
The terms included: no alcohol sales, which was already adopted by the applicants after the March 8 meeting; keeping a proposed coffee cart to 18 feet or less, which is what they were applying for; maintaining their current hours of operation; and endorsing the 25-seat expansion, subject to one condition. And that condition, according to Mattei’s letter, “would require Scooteria to enter into a non-exclusive revocable license agreement with Safeway to rent four parking stalls prior to the issuance of any building permit…”
In other words, if that funky café rented four parking slots in Safeway’s expansive lot, the supermarket would give their qualified blessing to the project.
Couple problems there. First, it’s the City of Sonoma that issues permits, not Albertsons. And second, since those proffered parking spaces are “non-exclusive and revocable,” accepting the terms would put Scooteria at the mercy of Safeway, with no tangible or lasting benefit to Café Scooteria.
“This came as a surprise to everybody,” said Planning Director David Goodison, referring to the list of conditions from Safeway.
The only real leverage Safeway had was if the city decided to make a given number of parking spaces a requirement of the applicant, who could provide only five on the .2-acre property – two of them designated for employees. And, as Goodison explained at the outset, a parking requirement in the use permit was entirely at the discretion of the Planning Commission, because the application was only for outdoor seating.
Another concern was the hours of operation, which Safeway asked to be restricted to the current times, weekdays from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., a bit fewer on weekends. But Nicholas Grimm, one of the owners of Café Scooteria, stuck by his guns on the request to stay open until 10:30 at night.