The Santa Maria City Council has reversed a decision to deny a permit to a national discount store, which had been considering legal action after being turned down for a permit to occupy a downtown shopping space it already owns.
The council voted 4-1 Tuesday — with Mayor Alice Patino dissenting — to grant an occupancy permit to National Stores Inc. DBA Fallas Discount Stores to move into a vacant building the company bought in March within the Downtown Specific Plan area at 201 Town Center West.
This week’s vote reverses a 3-2 council decision made in June to postpone the matter so city staff could draft a resolution denying consent.
Council members spent an hour further debating the benefits of allowing another discount store into an area governed by the Downtown Specific Plan, which was approved in 2008 to re-establish downtown Santa Maria as a “destination” and to attract outsiders to the region.
An occupancy permit was required because the 85,900-square-foot shopping center space, which formerly housed Mervyn’s, has been vacant since 2008, and is much larger than the 5,000-square-foot threshold that requires council consent, according to the downtown plan.
Fallas had already undertaken some minor tenant improvements in the space, and had planned to open as soon as possible.
“Conditions had been negotiated during the past two weeks and the final packet was accepted by both parties,” said Larry Appel, director of community development.
In the weeks since the council’s first vote, Ventura-based lawyer Kate Neiswender wrote a letter to city staff stating that Santa Maria was “severely limited in its ability to prevent the Fallas store from opening.”
She noted that city staff already approved and allowed Fallas’ renovation plans to move forward, and said there was no provision that could allow the city to withhold a permit based on store inventory.
With approval, the store is expected to open within 60 days.
On Tuesday, the council also unanimously voted to approve the first reading of an ordinance establishing a 45-day interim zoning measure prohibiting “bargain basement stores” in the downtown plan area.
Appel said the second reading will be in two weeks, at which time the council would need at least four members to vote in favor of continuing the ban up to two years while staff research and write an actual ordinance.
The two-story Fallas building has been vacant since 2008, when Mervyn’s closed after 20 years in the space.
Since then, the space has remained empty except for one-time use by Closeout Club and seasonal use by Halloween City, according to the city.
Fallas, located across Broadway from the Santa Maria Town Center, is expected to create 80 to 100 new jobs, and generate more than $50,000 annually in sales tax revenue.