The disputed 7-Eleven that caused some in a quiet neighborhood to band together in protest and landed San Mateo in court, may be closing its doors at the end of the month as the city and property owners are negotiating a settlement.
The city found itself in front of a Superior Court judge in January who ruled the council did act appropriately when it determined the store at 501 N. San Mateo Drive was illegally operating in a residential zone and asked it to vacate early last year.
Even though the judge’s ruling gave the city a leg up, the parties still have at least two pending litigation matters and City Attorney Shawn Mason said he could not comment on the status of the negotiations.
However, a store manager confirmed it would be closing at the end of the month and 7-Eleven spokeswoman Margaret Chabris confirmed it was in discussions with the city. The property owner Portfolio Development Partners did not respond to a request for comment.
Mayor Robert Ross said the negotiations weren’t yet completed, but was pleased with the progress and that it may alleviate some of the tension, particularly for the neighbors.
Residents who live near the store were cautiously optimistic and said they would be gratified if it closed.
Jeff Gilbert lives a few houses down from the store and feels the hard work of those who were negatively affected by the store paid off.
“It’s a very happy day. I’m sure a small group of us will have a celebration of some sort and get together and just toast. Because, as San Mateo is becoming a larger community and the population is growing, that the people still have a say, even if we don’t make the final decisions, the city will listen to the people,” Gilbert said. “We run the city and we have the ability to make changes to our city if we put in the time and effort.”
Another neighbor, Richard Smith, hopes the area will revert back to a quiet neighborhood. He and a group of residents took up collections and raised between $35,000 to $45,000, which they spent on legal fees, and their own zoning code interpretations, Smith said.
“If, in the end our goal is reached and 7-Eleven is gone, it will have been worth every penny and every effort we made as a group,” Smith said.
Gilbert said he looks forward to not finding hot dog wrappers or soda cans littered on his property and is thankful for the city’s cooperation.
The property is zoned residential and although a local deli previously occupied the site, its non-conforming use permit was lost after a six-month lapse in service. But a breakdown in staff communication led to the issuance of the permit in 2012, which the Planning Commission and City Council ultimately ruled to be a mistake.
The city has tried to learn from the mistakes of its Community Development Department, having conducted an extensive audit and begun to fill several vacant positions.
The city can move forward with lessons learned and use it to generate more positive business relationships, Ross said.
“It just takes a lot of tension off of everyone and it kind of sets the future road to achieve good business relationships,” Ross said.
The city will continue to work with 7-Eleven and it has shown some interest in opening a store in San Mateo if it finds an appropriate location, Ross said.
The City Council, the Planning Commission and the city attorney stood up and backed the citizens, Gilbert said. He thought the contentious case would be drawn out by the big-name developer and chain store’s dream team attorneys but is thankful the grassroots neighborhood movement seems to be paying off, Gilbert said.
“I would be, as a neighbor, ecstatic. As someone that was highly involved in this project, I would truly believe this was a small group of people very passionate about something not having anything to do with the mighty dollar,” Gilbert said, “but having to do with living our lives in a small quiet neighborhood and wanting that to continue.”
The matter is still under litigation but the city hopes the terms of the settlement will resolve any remainder, Mason said.
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