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[whitespace] Brewing dispute with Starbucks ends on agreement with neighbors

Saratoga--Blauer Drive resident Chris Hawks paid $250 for one last chance to battle coffee giant Starbucks at Saratoga City Hall, where the city's Planning Commission weeks ago had approved a plan to enlarge Starbucks' new Argonaut shop and create an outdoor seating area.

His investment and appeal has paid off, and then some.

The Saratoga City Council didn't fully reject Starbucks' proposal to expand, but after hours of discussions and public testimony June 16, it significantly scaled back how the coffee shop will be able to operate.

In the process, the council found a number of gripes to share with the owner of Argonaut Shopping Center, and agreed to lead a committee to meet with the property owner, Starbucks representatives and neighbors so any negative impacts there can be continually addressed.

The move by the council allows it to assess the shopping center and to monitor whether business practices fall out of favor with either the city or neighbors. If the center's activities continue to be objectionable, the council stressed it can call up individual use permits, like Starbucks, or the use permit of the shopping center as a whole for review and, ultimately, could drastically change or alter those permits and affect how and when businesses there operate.

Councilmembers also said the decision made a statement to other businesses seeking use permits in the future about what's acceptable to the city. Jamba Juice and a Blockbuster video store are rumored to be new tenants.

Mayor Jim Shaw, expressing frustration over the original use permit granted to Argonaut said, "I think the neighbors have been 'jobbed,' I really do. If I had my druthers, I'd kick this back for some major restructuring so that the neighbors on Blauer are reasonably protected. But, I throw my hands in the air."

At issue, originally, was a proposal by Starbucks to expand its new store on a corner of Argonaut Shopping Center by nearly 500 square feet, for a total of 1,600 square feet. The proposal also calls for the addition of outdoor seating, mostly on the Blauer Drive side of the coffee shop, which the Planning Commission approved last month.

Neighbors, including Hawks, said the increased size of the store and outside seating only means more customers, which translates to more traffic, more trash and noise coming from Starbucks, and will negatively impact the neighborhood.

Starbucks representatives, however, maintained that its employees at the store would curtail trash build-up, and that the increased size wouldn't necessarily mean more customers and more traffic through the parking lot there than what the smaller shop would have brought.

But many of the neighbors' concerns, the council discovered, weren't Starbucks fault. Neighbors complained of six new bright lights recently installed on the Blauer side, which face directly upward and shine into their windows. They also complained of the direction the parking stripes face--cars near Starbucks would drive toward their homes before turning out of the lot--and the lack of landscaping between the parking lot and the sidewalk.

Hawks and his neighbors encouraged the council to consider moving Starbucks down into the center of Argonaut, near Safeway, which operates 24 hours a day. That area, they said, would be more appropriate than near the neighborhood.

"I can't imagine a higher intensity of usage," Hawks said. "It's going to be in and out--they're expecting hundreds of cars a day. We thought we'd arrived at a compromise, but now it's not a compromise."

These comments stirred councilmembers, many of whom had visited the site to see for themselves, into acting on behalf of the neighbors and creating an ad-hoc committee that will contact Argonaut's property manager to address their concerns. No meeting date has been set yet, but Councilmembers Evan Baker and Nick Streit will represent the city, along with a staff representative.

Additionally, the council scaled back Starbuck's use permit by designating the hours it can operate and seat people outside the store. Instead of the original 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. operating schedule approved by the Planning Commission, Starbucks will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday. and from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.

Outside seating was also limited by the council from 8 a.m. to dusk.

The council voted on the motion 5-1, with Councilman John Mehaffey dissenting.
Steve Enders

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