Downtown Gearhart

Downtown Gearhart in late October.

No big chain stores would be able to set up shop on Pacific Way, and surrey rides are definitely off the table. But hard liquor could be sold downtown and pickleball players could rent paddles. Franchise restaurants would be prohibited, as would amusement parks and arcades.

These were among the proposed changes to Gearhart’s downtown commercial zoning code, which moved from the Planning Commission to the City Council for review. The council will consider the recommendations at a public hearing Thursday.

The goal is to modernize language in the code to allow businesses to have more options, increase revenue and be more successful in the C-1 zone, City Planner Carole Connell said at last week’s meeting.

If the amendments are adopted, downtown businesses would be able to use 50% of their property for residential purposes. Parking requirements for eating and drinking establishments would be eased, and a 10 p.m. closing time would be eliminated. Cafes could offer outdoor and sidewalk seating for patrons.

Planning commissioners weighed public comment and the city’s comprehensive plan, which aims to “preserve and maintain the predominantly residential character of Gearhart.”

While a neighborhood market would be considered an outright use, the commission fell short of removing conditional use permit requirements for cafes and variety stores.

“If you took all those uses away and said, ‘Let’s just allow retail uses in the neighborhood commercial zone whatever they might be, you would be in opposition to the comprehensive plan,” Connell said.

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 that despite the new amendments, the code remained overly restrictive.

“We as business owners understand current zoning hardships for existing business and the barriers to entry for new business,” the group wrote in an October letter delivered at last week’s meeting. “While the changes the commission proposed were undertaken with the best intentions, they will actually deter business, make it harder to obtain and seek financing and won’t allow for flexibility in these very uncertain times.”

Planning commissioners unanimously voted to send the recommendations to the City Council.

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