San Ramon planning officials are set to talk Tuesday about whether to explore a local law prohibiting people from changing vacant restaurant sites into any other business use.
There is no formal proposal on the table, but the idea of a moratorium ordinance has been bounced around and city officials are looking for clear direction from the Planning Commission about whether to research the issue or draft a proposed ordinance.
Tuesday night's public debate will center on an Oct. 29 letter deputy city attorney Alicia Poon wrote to the planning commissioners after commission chair Donna Kerger asked staff last month for an update on the "moratorium ordinance."
"As I understood it, such ordinance would restrict shuttered restaurant sites from becoming other non-restaurant commercial uses," Poon said.
But there appears to be confusion about whether city staff was told to draft such an ordinance for consideration.
In her letter, Poon said she was informed that the City Attorney's Office was directed at a joint commission-City Council workshop in September to explore a moratorium ordinance, but she didn't recall receiving such direction.
After reviewing the audio recording and talking with workshop participants, Poon concluded her office was not in fact directed to prepare a moratorium ordinance.
The deputy city attorney noted that Kerger offered strong words during the Sept. 22 workshop about the subject of empty restaurant spaces being converted to non-restaurant uses.
"We want to have a balance," Kerger said Sept. 22, according to Poon's letter. "Everybody on the dais knows how I feel about restaurants. You all know that I want more restaurants and I don't want any of our commercial area to exchange a restaurant for a business. To me ... that is like crazy land."
Poon said Kerger's Sept. 22 remarks may have been the origin of the concept, but "the words 'moratorium ordinance' were never mentioned by chair Kerger, or anyone else on the dais, during the joint workshop ... nor in the final motion made by the City Council at the joint workshop."
She noted that if the planning commissioners want to explore a potential ordinance to ban people from converting restaurant spaces to non-restaurant uses, they are "free to direct" city staff to pursue it.
The commission's discussion is set to begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday at San Ramon City Hall, 2222 Camino Ramon.
In other business
* The commission will consider proposals from Walnut Creek-based Nearon Sunset, LLC, to bring an SAT tutoring business and a religious-meeting facility available for weekend services to its Sunset Business Park at the corner of Alcosta Boulevard and Crow Canyon Road.
The projects were on the commission's agenda earlier this month, but the applicant asked for the hearing to be postponed until Tuesday, according to assistant planner Ryan Driscoll.
Both operations would be located next to each other on the second floor of an existing Alcosta Boulevard building, near the Post Office, Driscoll wrote in his staff report.
The SAT test preparation business, at 12945 Alcosta Blvd., would be open seven days a week and could house up to 10 employees and 68 students under the proposal, according to Driscoll. It would start out filling 3,889 square feet before expanding to the full 6,405-square-foot space.
At 12947 Alcosta Blvd., the space would be used as a religious meeting facility to house up to 150 people for weekend-only services, in addition to administrative office hours during the week.
Specific tenants have not been determined, but Nearon Sunset is negotiating with prospective occupants, Driscoll said.
City staff recommends the commission conduct a public hearing Tuesday before choosing whether to approve the projects or provide other direction to city staff and the applicant.
* The commissioners will further review a proposal from Sunnyvale-based Bloom Energy to install one 200-kilowatt-per-hour, fuel-cell-powered cogeneration unit behind The Home Depot at 2750 Crow Canyon Road for the store's on-site use.
The energy system -- which would measure 4.5 feet wide, 7 feet tall and 30 feet long -- would generate electricity from natural gas without combustion, city associate planner Shinei Tsukamoto wrote in a staff report.
The commission approved Bloom Energy's original proposal the evening of Nov. 3, but the applicant sent an email that day -- a message not received by city staff until Nov. 4 -- that clarified the unit was designed to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and would provide enough electricity to power the entire store, according to Tsukamoto.
That was the first time the city received that operational information, leading the city's zoning administrator to conclude the project's Nov. 3 approval was based on inaccurate information, Tsukamoto said.
City staff thinks the project should still be approved, but the commission should pass a resolution acknowledging the 24/7 operation in the conditions of approval, Tsukamoto said. "The proposed continuous operation will not cause any new noise or visual environmental impacts and will not be a detriment to the public safety," Tsukamoto added.