San Mateo Deputy Mayor David Lim wrote in his blog Friday that the City Attorney's Office found evidence suggesting "legitimate questions about communication between City staff and members of the City Council that might be seen as having influenced the granting of a building permit for the 7-11 at 501 N. San Mateo Drive."
Lim does not draw any conclusions from the information he received but has asked for further investigation from city staff. A public hearing is scheduled for January.
The issue centers around the continuation of a "non-conforming use" of the property, which has changed hands since the closure of the popular Stangelini's Italian Delicatessen and Hilltop Market two years ago.
The property at 501 North San Mateo Drive is zoned for residential housing, but there is a provision for non-conforming use that was apparently applied in 1920. The space was unoccupied for about two years before 7-Eleven was issued a building permit earlier this year.
There is a provision in San Mateo city code 27.72.020 Discontinuance of Use that reads, in part, should a building remain discontinued for a period of at least six months (when said premises are considered abandoned) that the use of the property would revert to the regulations of the district.
In response to the question of abandonment, San Mateo Community Development Director Lisa Grote explained the "intent" of abandonment was not present and had evidence to show that.
Grote did write about "no advance notification of the process or the decision about the continuation of a legal nonconforming use."
The current permit was approved on August 30 by city staff and Lim wrote "The City Attorney determined that this project, although a non-conforming use, was not a project that required City Council approval."
Neighborhood residents became alarmed when they learned a 7-11 was going to be opening on the property and called for a halt on the construction. The residents flooded the city council with letters and petitions, which prompted Lim to call for public hearings.
San Mateo Police Sergeant Dave Norris prepared a study, dated Oct. 11, 2012, and requested by the Community Development Department, in which he wrote that, generally, convenience stores are not allowed in a R-4 zone (multi-family residential).
Norris also quoted a provision in the zoning code that would allow the city council to terminate the non-conforming use based on things such as being "burdensome upon the surrounding neighborhood."
The nine-page report studied the affects of the three other 7-Eleven stores in San Mateo in comparison with the location on North San Mateo Drive, prompting police lieutenant Pat Molloy to comment:
"The new location is adjacent to residential uses area with almost no buffer . . . I believe complaints will increase at the proposed location due to residences being right on top of the business and parking lot."
Lim wrote, "While there is most likely a reasonable explanation . . . even the appearance of impropriety is unacceptable in serving the residents of San Mateo openly and honestly."
Councilman Jack Matthews was involved with Portfolio Development Partners, which heads the project at 501 North San Mateo Drive, for a time but was apparently not part of the permit process.
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