In a 4-3 split decision, the Hanford Planning Commission will not recommend changes to zoning regulations for motels, hotels and inns that would have allowed food service and meeting rooms at new facilities constructed outside the downtown area.
The vote, made at a May 26 meeting, goes against a staff recommendation from the city’s Community Development Department, which advocated making changes to the decades-old zoning ordinance after having to repeatedly deny requests from interested investors. The vote also went against the recommendation medical offices larger than 6,000 square feet be allowed downtown without a special exemption. But, the main focus was on guest accommodations.
“The way the ordinance currently reads, a motel can’t have a coffee pot, a microwave, any food,” said Darlene Mata, the city’s Community Development director. “We’ve had three requests. We haven’t been able to tell people they’re going to open.”
Talk of the Town
The issue was a hot topic at a town hall meeting in February. At the time, those who framed the 20-year-old law explained the reasoning behind it, saying the restrictions were intended to keep the downtown a vibrant commercial center for the city, and that the ordinances had done their job. Others, citing a 15-percent occupancy rate, questioned whether the city needed more rooms.
One of the main points made at the May 26 meeting was most travelers, especially those traveling for business, now expect to have at least coffee service, preferably a kitchenette, and a place to hold meetings where they’re staying. Among those making that point was Planning Commission Chair Steve Froberg, who then voted against recommending the change to the City Council.
Also voting against the recommendation were Vice Chair Dennis Ham and commissioners Anjer Nahal and Travis Paden. Voting to make the recommendation to change the zoning ordinance were commissioners Mark Fernandez, Richard Douglas and Michael Johnston.
Changing The Definition
As the ordinances stand now, hotels can be constructed outside the downtown area, but they cannot provide any kind of food service.
“We suggested approval to essentially merge the definition of inns, hotels and motels,” said assistant planner Gabrielle de Silva. “When we get a request for a motel anywhere but downtown, we have to make them aware of the restrictions.”
Mata said City Hall was not aware what chains were interested in Hanford. Motels are generally privately-owned businesses that join well-known franchises.
“They don’t usually know what flag they’re going to carry,” Mata said.
Issue Going to City Council
Despite the vote of no-confidence, the suggested changes will still be presented to the City Council for the final say on the matter.
“It moves forward to the City Council regardless,” said Mata, citing the June 16 meeting as the earliest the group could take up the issue.
The Council will also consider a system of incentives intended to encourage business growth downtown, she said.
Still to be considered by the Council and the Commission is the unusual status of the Cinemark 8 on Lacey Boulevard. Current zoning ordinances restrict theaters to the downtown area; however, the Cinemark 8 was constructed before the ordinance was enacted, leaving the facility in limbo should new construction be necessary.
“If something happened or they wanted to expand,” Mata said, “they couldn’t do that.”
The two governing bodies will also be considering changes that would allow second branches outside the downtown for banks already operating there, allowing furniture stores to operate outside the downtown and allowing secondary uses inside established businesses.