Rockaway office project narrowly approved

Parking nemesis divides agency

By Elaine Larsen
Assistant Editor

Redevelopment veterans Bob Pickerrell and Ron Grindrod's plans to build a new office complex in Rockaway narrowly squeaked by the Redevelopment Agency Monday night on a 3-2 vote.

As expected, Agency members Barbara Carr and Cal Hinton expressed concern about the project's lack of on-site parking and the city's practice of instead allowing developers to pay "in-lieu" fees.

That the project faced opposition at the agency (council) level came as no surprise to people who have been watching the parking dilemma unfold in recent months.

Actually, the debate about the availability of parking in Rockaway has dominated redevelopment discussions for years. It continues to pit opponents on both sides of the issue and serves to underscore the cloud of skepticism that has plagued the whole process of redevelopment in Pacifica from the very beginning.

Pickerrell and Grindrod, who won favor with the Planning Commission, also on a split vote, stressed that the agency's approval of their project would foster ongoing efforts to revitalize Rockaway.

The project calls for two new two-story office buildings &emdash; roughly 8,600 square feet &emdash; on a vacant 7,825 square-foot corner lot at 400 Old County Road at San Marlo Way.

The major sticking point, one that could have easily scuttled the project politically, was the need for the agency to amend its original "Disposition and Development Agreement." The DDA is a contract between the city and developers, cementing the "public-private" partnership aspect of redevelopment.

The original agreement called for the developers to build 17 parking spaces on the Old County Road site. However, that lot would have been temporary and could have been considered for development after three years.

Instead, the developers opted against building the lot, maintaining that the peripheral spaces are not critical. They requested the agency eliminate the space requirement and allow them to pay in-lieu fees instead.

Pickerrell outlined the benefits of the project, namely permit fees of $25,000, as well as $10,500 in annual property tax increment revenue to the city. The city also stands to gain business license fees from tenants, more jobs, not to mention the in-lieu revenue, he said.

Moreover, the office building is anticipated to increase foot traffic in the area to help existing businesses, who suffer from a shortage of customers during the weekdays.

"Finally, approval will ensure the continued participation of two energetic veterans of Rockaway Redevelopment who have been in the trenches, literally from the beginning," said Pickerrell, referring to the pair's previous projects, Rockaway Plaza and Quarry Cove.

"In essence, the business decision the agency faces tonight is a choice between economic progress or economic stagnation."

The agency heard a show of support from Chamber President Jeff Sims, as well as opposition from former Mayor Pro Tem Vi Gotelli, who said later, "once again, Grindrod is building something at the public's expense, without bathrooms, elevators or parking."

Planning Commissioner Karen Lines, who was liaison that night, noted the commission favored the project ultimately, although there was some debate about sidewalk widths and the paving of San Marlo Way. However, the overall feeling was that the project will do much to bolster the activity in Rockaway, she said.

"We need to get moving on economic development," agreed Councilmember Maxine Gonsalves. "This project will only help us. I don't feel we can turn this down."

Carr, however, reiterated her long-felt belief that Rockaway will eventually be choked by a lack of parking, a sentiment often expressed vocally by Rockaway restaurateurs Nick and Chuck Gust. "We can't keep giving away parking that isn't there," she said, clearly upset about the in-lieu fee process.

"I can't stand it when people say 'when there's a parking problem we'll deal with it.' That's not good planning." Although Carr tossed bouquets to Grindrod and Pickerrell, calling them "geniuses in their own way," she stood firm on her conviction, stressing that her opposition was not based on a personality clash. "I really feel strongly about this. We can't keep giving away the store." She advocated the agency sit down at a study session to hash out the problem, but fell short of getting enough support.

Sharing her concern was Hinton, who agreed that planning is necessary "to anticipate future needs. We've rushed ahead long enough. There are too many unanswered questions to proceed with this project." He also urged a postponement to grapple with the parking concern.

Their view, however, was the minority one, although Council member Pete DeJarnatt tried to soften the blow of being outvoted.

"This is a very complex issue, but I have to go with my gut feeling. A lot of people feel parking is predicated on the Quarry developing, but this has left us in a holding pattern. It could be argued either way," DeJarnatt said.

"We have to look at the benefits versus the costs," he said, noting that a project on that peripheral site is better than it sitting vacant. Tackling the larger issue somewhat, DeJarnatt said he doesn't feel there is so much a parking shortage in Rockaway as a shortage of centralized parking. But the financial and political obstacles associated with a parking structure make that eventuality unlikely.

"This is a project we can't afford not to approve even if there are some misgivings," he said. "People will be bringing in clients and going to the restaurants. It will make the area more viable."

Although Mayor Dorothy Edminster was veering toward being the third vote on a postponement, mostly to talk about the need to pave the surfer's lot, the others convinced her to move forward. Gonsalves argued that even the city staff doesn't believe there's a parking problem; waiting two weeks won't change anything, she said.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Carr threatened to roll up her sleeves and hash out all of her parking concerns, saying she didn't like seeing the agency "frittering away people's money." She called the action "unconscionable" but said she was "too tired and disgusted" to fight about it. Mayor Edminster did comment that she, too "had a conscience."

The vote was 3-2 with Hinton and Carr dissenting &emdash; "not a vote against the developers, but against the manner of planning," Carr said.