Downtown ‘good neighbor’ policy moves forward

The Gilroy Planning Commission is recommending an ordinance that aims to promote a “good neighbor” policy for businesses and residents downtown.

The commission voted 6-1 for the new ordinance April 4, with Commissioner Casey Estorga dissenting. The ordinance will now head to the city council for approval at a future meeting.

In March, the council directed city staff to pursue the ordinance and reach out to residents and businesses in the downtown area.

According to the ordinance, property owners must notify new tenants moving into downtown of potential nuisances in the area.

“You may be subject to impacts, including inconvenience and discomfort, from lawful activities occurring within the Downtown Specific Plan area,” the notice reads, and lists impacts such as noise from music, odors from restaurants, street closures, special events and more.

“If you own, lease, rent or otherwise utilize property within the Downtown Specific Plan area, you should be prepared to accept such inconveniences or discomfort as a normal and necessary aspect of owning, living in, operating a business in, or otherwise utilizing an area with a vibrant downtown character,” the notice continues.

Senior management analyst Trevin Barber said the ordinance discloses potential nuisances so new tenants are aware of the environment they are moving into. Should a disagreement arise, the ordinance encourages mediation between two parties, rather than taking cases to court.

“It sets that stage and expectation so everyone knows what they are getting into before they make that investment downtown,” he said.

Barber said there have been cases in neighboring cities such as San Jose where disputes over downtown nuisances have ended up in costly court battles.

“It is an issue in the broader area,” he said. “The intent was to be proactive before problems find themselves in Gilroy.”

Gary Walton, president of the Downtown Business Association, said downtown is becoming a place where “we’re mixing things together,” with residential units, nighttime entertainment and more, and “there will be conflicts” that the ordinance should help resolve.

“It’s to resolve those issues down the road that will arise,” he said. “We want the tenants to say, ‘This was disclosed to me. I knew I was getting into this.’ “

Walton added that the Downtown Business Association will work with property managers to add the notice to current leases and not just to future agreements.

“The businesses need to respect the residents, and the residents need to respect the businesses that were already there,” he said.

Estorga, who voted against the recommendation, said he felt the ordinance was “redundant and arbitrary.”

“I certainly understand the intent, but in practice I don’t know how it’s going to work,” he said. “I feel it might have a lot of unintended consequences. I really want to support it, but I don’t know how I can right now.”

Commissioner Peter Fleming said the ordinance clearly states the nuisances of downtown to new tenants.

“Anytime you can disclose, do it, as much as possible,” he said. “You’re still going to get those that will complain, but you’re covering your butt.”