Several things went right during Monday night’s special San Mateo City Council meeting when it was decided that Michaels Arts and Crafts would be allowed to move to the former Borders bookstore site on El Camino Real.
First of all, staff did the right thing in following the city’s zoning in not allowing the move and the Planning Commission followed suit. Both act in advisory roles to the City Council, which can decide to make an exception to the city’s zoning for the greater good.
Second, the City Council recognized the greater good in allowing the store to remain in the city rather than adhering to its zoning. Michaels is a popular store and a community resource. People like it. And that was evident by the approximately 6,000 cards filled out by customers to support the store’s move.
The conflict about the proposed move arose from the fact that the vacant Borders site was rezoned for multi-use development including housing as part of the city’s Transit Corridor Plan. It is that plan that seeks to encourage transit-based housing and the site, 2925 S. El Camino Real, near the Hillsdale Train Station. There was some dispute over whether its use was grandfathered in since it was used as a Spirit Halloween store temporarily. Ultimately, and likely mindful of the 7-Eleven situation in which there was also a question over a grandfathered use of a retail site that is zoned for housing that is now subject to legal action, staff stuck to the zoning and allowed the City Council to make decision.
Essentially, the council determined that Michaels could move to the Borders site, which saved a community resource, with a 10-year lease and two five-year options. This flexibility will allow for the site to be developed as something else when a plan comes to fruition and the time is right.
If the city’s goal is to ensure housing near the transit corridor, allowing Michaels to move will likely help for another reason. In 2011, the city approved a proposal for a 599-unit housing development called Station Park Green on the 12-acre lot where the Kmart and Michaels is now. The agreement was for 10 years to allow the developer to organize plans and financing. The plan initially allowed for Michaels’ relocation into the new development but, now that the move is approved, it may give the developers more flexibility and speed the proposal. So, in essence, this may be a zero-sum game in which the loss of housing development potential at the Borders site might be made up at the Station Park Green site. In addition, there may be an opportunity for future such development at the Borders site once other proposals start entering the pipeline when the economic climate for such development is appropriate.
But most importantly, at least for crafters, the city will retain its beloved Michaels and the council listened to the community about the value of such a store in San Mateo.