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King Street Retail Strategy Approved

'Administrative Permit' process rejected.

The Planning Commission Tuesday night unanimously approved both the King Street Retail Strategy and the Outdoor Dining Overlay Zone. Both items were challenged during the public hearing portion of the commission's April meeting with many speakers claiming ignorance of what the Master Plan Amendment proposed.

Following a vote for deferral last month to allow staff time to address the primary concerns raised by many speakers, the commissioners addressed each of those points Tuesday night prior to their vote on the proposals. Concerns by opponents last month focused on four elements:

* Why the plan was limited to the King Street corridor;

* Factors pertaining to the establishment of more restaurants by utilizing an "Administrative Permit" process rather than the traditional Special Use Permit Process when approving a small restaurant application;

* Pedestrian traffic flow in conjunction with outdoor dining by enforcement of regulations governing sidewalk width;

* Parking in general and valet parking specifically.

REFERRING to the previous month's citizen uproar over being ill informed about the strategy, Eileen Fogarty, director, Planning and Zoning Department, said, "We held a number of meeting throughout the city on this study as well as having four articles in the city's FYI publication and all civic and business associations were on the study commission. The idea was to have all interested parties involved throughout the process."

In the department's documentation to the commission for this month's discussion on the strategy, Fogarty supplied a "Chronology of Meetings and Notifications" that had taken place to inform the citizenry of what was proposed. It noted that the process commenced on Nov. 11, 2003 with the first Advisory Committee meeting and terminated with the April 5, 2005 Planning Commission meeting. During that 17 month time span there were 27 meetings and 12 printed notices and/or explanations not counting several articles in the media and a posting on the city Web site.

Fogarty and staff then clarified each of the points which triggered April's deferral.

* There will be no exceptions to maintaining the five feet minimum sidewalk width for pedestrian traffic in the areas where outdoor dining is permitted.

* The SUP process will be maintain for all restaurant

approvals. There will be no "Administrative Approval" process.

* Valet parking for restaurants will be allowed within the Central Business District and not limited to just those establishments along King Street.

* The new business organization known as the King Street Partnership "will not supplant existing organizations, and will aid in establishing more consistent retail operation hours."

* Retail parking will be limited to commercial areas and "not in nearby residential neighborhoods."

IN ONE FINAL PUSH to seek approval for the Administrative Approval process over the SUP process for new small restaurants, Vice Chairman John Komoroske said, "I think we should give up some of our powers to help smaller entrepreneurs. The Administrative Approval process replacing the SUP process is a very positive thing."

However, he was alone in that sentiment. "This is not a question of being for or against small restaurants. It was adverse to other businesses. Restaurants tend to crowd out other businesses," said Commissioner H. Stewart Dunn, Jr. To emphasize his point he cited Shirlington and the 1600 block of King Street where there are an abundance of restaurants.

Commissioner Richard Leibach reiterated his April rationale for objecting to the procedural change. "SUP's are the only real protection residents have to know what is coming into their neighborhood. I have always been against giving up the SUP process," Leibach said.

Admitting defeat by stating, "I can count noses," Komoroske made both motions to approve the King Street Retail Strategy Master Plan Amendment and the Outdoor Dining Overlay Zone subject to the changes brought forth by staff. Both were approved unanimously as recommendations to City Council.