Council looks to bring business downtown

Revitalizing downtown Gilroy along Monterey Street was a plank in every council candidate’s platform in 2018.

While progress in attracting new businesses to vacant buildings that line Monterey Street has been slow, the council this month took another step it believes will make downtown a more business-friendly and vibrant economic center.

Over the last few years new businesses have begun to pop up between Fourth and Eighth streets. Mayor Roland Velasco heralded the progress of the downtown during his State of the City address. He said new businesses allowed to use ground-floor offices on Monterey Street, along with mixed-use apartment projects like the Cannery, are turning the downtown into the city’s epicenter.

New businesses and new construction can bring potential problems. With mixed-use buildings in the works in the area around Monterey Street, council members say they hope to quell any discord between developers and nearby residents before it gets out of hand.

The council unanimously approved an ordinance March 4 that sets new guidelines for downtown businesses and gives mandatory deed notices to those buying property in the area.

The council decided to follow in the footsteps of cities like Livermore and worked with the Downtown Business Association to create the new rules. The ordinance amended the city’s zoning ordinance to add sections specifically related to Gilroy residents and downtown businesses.

Tenants and property owners will be notified that they are within the Downtown Specific Plan and in the vicinity of late-night restaurants and entertainment venues and so may have to deal with issues such as lights, music and special events. The ordinance also attempts to foster a “good neighbor policy” and “dispute resolutions” to problems downtown residents may have with the neighboring businesses.

Rachelle Bedell, the city’s community engagement officer, told the Dispatch, “The plan is fairly simple: ask operators to pass along a notification that downtown might be loud.” She said the new ordinance made minor changes to the existing code, but that it would promote transparency between the city, businesses and residents.

“The Community Development Department will require new residential developers in the downtown to provide future residential tenants with the same notice that is written within the ordinance,” Bedell said in an email. “Notices will also be recorded along with each new property deed so every resident going forward will be made aware.”

Gary Walton, president of the Gilroy Downtown Business Association and local business and property owner, said the ordinance doesn’t go far enough in setting specific guidelines for how to deal with potential conflicts faced by property owners. Walton, who owns several downtown properties, also told the council at the meeting that he would have liked to see a specific plan for dealing with renters and conflicts in the downtown area.

“I think we’re gonna save ourselves a lot of headaches by trying to do this right,” Walton said.

Ultimately, council members did not feel they would be able to impose a specific conflict resolution plan, with Mayor Roland Velasco saying the ordinance may be “as good as it gets.”

Trevin Barber, senior management analyst for the city, told the council that when surveying the community for input, the residents near the downtown were overwhelmingly supportive of something being done to set expectations and manage relations between the business and residential sectors.

“They’re way more interested in the practical,” Barber told the council, “but they were supportive in general.”