A well-known developer wants to lease a Western Addition property to Chase Bank, but a group of Divisadero Street neighbors are challenging the move, saying it violates the city’s formula retail rules.
The developer is the John Brennan Company, whose eventually-successful efforts to open up a Whole Foods in the Haight-Ashbury on Stanyan Street made headlines for a few years (an effort that was only successful after the project was modified to remove plans for housing above the Whole Foods).
The Brennans own the building at the corner of Oak and Divisadero, which formerly housed Martini Cleaners (gone for about four years now), the Country Cheese Shop and 5 Star Truffles (both of whom were gone as of January 1 of this year).
Some time ago, the Brennans attempted to lease the space to a Batteries Plus, an effort shot down by the Planning Commission. They appear to have leased the property to Chase, who applied in January for building permits, records show.
There’s already a few Chase Banks in the area — one on 15th Street in the Castro, and another on Fulton near Masonic Avenue. Another one on Divisadero in this location would “be the best and most convenient location for our customers and our community,” said JP Morgan Chase spokeswoman Eileen Leveckis. “Many people are happy to hear about us opening up a branch there.”
Dean Preston is not one of those people. The Hayes Street resident says that putting a Chase Bank on Divisadero Street is a violation of the city’s restrictions on formula retail — recall the saga of American Apparel on Valencia Street — on neighborhood commercial corridors, of which Divisadero Street is a prime example.
“Chase’s efforts to saturate the San Francisco market with cookie cutter replicas of its branches are exactly what San Francisco’s formula retail law was meant to prevent,” Preston wrote in his official appeal, filed this week.
The matter will be heard before the Board of Appeals on March 16. If the appeal is successful, Chase will have to go before the Planning Commission to receive conditional use authorization to install a branch on that site.
And that’s exactly what the bank wants to avoid, according to Preston: in 2009, neighbors in the Castro argued against a Chase bank in the Castro at a conditional use hearing, wherein the Planning Commission denied Chase.
For Mark Brennan, principal of the John Brennan Company, there is no ambiguity of whether or not the formula retail restrictions apply to financial institutions. “Banks are not formula retail — they don’t fall under that type of use,” he told the Appeal on Wednesday, adding that last year, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi inquired as to when the Chase Bank branch would be open. “I was emboldened by this,” Brennan said, adding that “mom and pop banks just don’t exist.”
Yet Preston will press the issue nonetheless: “The neighbors in this area have fought for a long time to keep Divisadero Street free of chain stores and to promote local businesses there,” said Preston, who noted that in addition to the aborted Batteries Plus, a Blockbuster and a Burger King both tried to open where restaurant NoPa and bar Madrone Lounge now operate, respectively, and both were defeated by the neighbors. “They claim to be exempt, but there’s nothing [in the formula retail law] that says banks are excluded.”
Exactly how the neighborhood feels about this is subject to debate. None of the neighborhood groups or merchants’ associations in the area have taken a position on the matter. Two merchants who vehemently oppose the bank are both located several blocks away. Feeling is “divided,” according to Preston. (The No Chase Bank on Divisadero Street facebook page has 38 “likes,” for what that’s worth.)
In addition to formula retail, there’s the issue of traffic flow. The bank would be located on a very busy stretch of road – Oak Street is the major thoroughfare for motorists from the western side to head downtown – that has been a thorn in the side of transit advocates like the Bicycle Coalition, whose efforts to keep cyclists safe one block away near the Fell Street ARCO has been noted.
The bank’s applications for signs and awnings sound like they want signage that’s larger than normal, according to Preston. “I think this is more of a billboard than anything,” he said.