Entrepreneurs who want to open businesses that don’t fit in the allowed uses in Solvang’s tourist-related commercial area may soon have recourse.
The Planning Commission on Monday directed the staff to come up with a streamlined permit process that would allow businesses that don’t fit the current definitions to obtain licenses to operate without having to go through the expensive — and uncertain — process of seeking a conditional use permit.
Under the envisioned process, the planning staff would have the ability to review the business applications and recommend approval if the proposed businesses fit the general, unspecified criteria in the current code for a modest fee that will recover the cost of staff time.
In that way, applicants could avoid going through the conditional use permitting process that can cost thousands of dollars without any guarantee of receiving a business license.
Commissioners hope the process, which will have to come back for approval, will help those businesses open their doors and fill in some vacant units while they take a broader look at refining the allowed uses in the tourist-related commercial area, which is essentially the downtown core of the city.
Planning and Economic Development Director Holly Owen told the commission the idea of reviewing and possibly revising the allowed uses was driven by several business applications the city received in the last couple of months that didn’t fit in the defined uses.
“They fell into an ‘all other’ category, and we weren’t sure we could approve them,” Owen said, adding that investigating deeper turned up similar businesses that were grandfathered in or were allowed on a case-by-case basis in the past.
She noted the city wants to maintain tourist-related businesses that encourage and thrive on pedestrian traffic in the TRC zone because Solvang has a tourism-based economy, but the downtown should also include businesses that draw more local people, as well.
Currently allowed tourism-related uses include indoor amusement enterprises, retail stores, indoor and outdoor restaurants, bars and cocktail lounges, hotels, conference centers, bed-and-breakfast inns, theaters, golf courses, nurseries and parking lots.
Other allowed uses that are more oriented toward local residents include laundry and dry cleaners, barbers, beauty parlors, shoe repair and tailor shops, photo studios, health clubs, spas and radio, TV and small appliance repair shops, although she admitted some of those terms and even the businesses themselves are outdated.
Financial institutions like banks and savings-and-loans, business, professional and trade schools and professional, administrative and business offices are also among the allowed uses that serve mostly locals.
“That last one is kind of a catch-all,” Owen said, noting there are no definitions of what constitute professional, administrative and business offices.
“Although flexibility in a zoning ordinance is sometimes a good thing — it allows some stretch in determining what might be allowed — the irregularity of applications makes for a frustrating determination for planning directors,” she said.
The recent applications that triggered the issue were from “therapists,” she said, including nutritional and supplement therapists, talk therapists and one that would use “devices,” although she emphasized they were not massage therapists, which are strictly regulated in the city.
She also said the commission might consider limiting where the more locals-serving businesses might be allowed, such as on second stories or in courtyards, in order to retain the tourist-serving pedestrian-oriented businesses along the street fronts.
That idea drew some support from Steve Battaglia of Battaglia Commercial Real Estate, who spoke during the public comment period.
Tracy Beard, executive director of the Solvang Chamber of Commerce, noted business has changed in the 30 years since the tourist-related commercial ordinance was developed.
“I’d like to see reiki centers, healing centers, salt bars, a business hub,” she said. “We need to look at what we are serving and who we are serving. … We have to do business another way.”
She said there are businesses around the chamber in King Frederick’s Court that could be considered illegal, like private billing offices, music and singing teachers and even the chamber itself.
“We don’t fall into any category,” she said.
But Stephanie Statom, who lives in the TRC zone, cautioned the commission about looking at how newly allowed businesses might impact residents, relating how two weight-lifting businesses near her home create problems with noise, traffic and parking.
“Take a look at what you’re introducing and the impacts they might have on other businesses and residents who are grandfathered in,” she said. “Finding a parking space is a daily struggle if I leave for awhile.”