Downtown Gearhart

Gearhart City Council agreed to consider amendments to downtown business zoning code.

A nearly two-year process turned around the bend Thursday night as the City Council reviewed recommendations of the Planning Commission to clean up outdated code language, make downtown commercial zoning less restrictive and encourage new businesses.

If adopted, the amendments could bring outdoor and sidewalk seating to neighborhood markets, and limit chain or formula use businesses with four or more locations.

The amendments eliminate restrictions that require neighborhood cafes to be open 11 months a year, and lifts the 10 p.m. closing time.

Amendments would bring existing stores into compliance with the code by eliminating restrictive language, members of City Council said at a public hearing to consider changes to the city’s legislative code.

Downtown businesses would be able to use 50% of their property for residential purposes.

Changes would allow retailers including the Pacific Way Cafe, Sweet Shop and By the Way to continue operations as they are rather than face enforcement for violating terms of the current code.

“This going to really help not only existing businesses, but help new businesses come into Gearhart too, hopefully a new grocery market as well,” Mayor Matt Brown said.

City Council tasked planning commissioners with the revisions in early 2019 after the closing of Gearhart’s only grocery.

The amendments aim to modernize language in the code to allow businesses to have more options, increase revenue and be more successful in the downtown C-1 zone.

First reading ahead

According to the comprehensive plan, the city must limit commercial activity to a level compatible with residential character.

After a public hearing in October, a group of business owners said verbiage in the proposed changes remained overly restrictive, difficult to seek financing and discourages new businesses from opening.

Business owners had sought to lift a requirement for a conditional use permit for retail stores and neighborhood cafes.

“Not only would this move to make two more outright uses save the city money in administrative costs, it would ease the city administrator’s job of enforcement and eliminate the costs associated with appeals,” the coalition of 11 business owners wrote the Planning Commission earlier his month.

The new amendments fall short of listing retail and restaurants as unconditional uses.

Gearhart’s comprehensive plan, which stresses the city’s residential nature, directed much of the language in the amendments, City Attorney Peter Watts said at Thursday’s meeting.

“The goal is serve the community, not attract tourists,” Watts said. “There are limits to what we can do because of the very restrictive language in our comprehensive plan.”

Councilors voted 4-1 to approve a vote on the first reading of the amendments at the city’s Dec. 2 meeting.

Mayor Matt Brown and councilors Rita Fackerell, Paulina Cockrum and Kerry Smith voted in favor; Dan Jesse voted against.

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