chase.jpgA 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.

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  • pchas

    Oh, give it a rest fer chrissakes. I am sooo sick of anti corporate buttinskys trying to stick their noses where they don’t belong. People doing their banking there will also shop at area stores improving the economy and the bank won’t generate any more traffic than the cheese shop and the laundry did.

  • David Tornheim

    Thanks for the well written article. Our efforts are just ramping up. You’ll soon see fliers, petitions and posters on the street. There are a handful of people who don’t mind Divisadero looking like very other strip mall in the country, but the vast majority of San Franciscans know we deserve something unique. The tactics of the landlord are unconscionable.

    The Chase about 10 blocks away at Fulton / Masonic actually was not a permissible use of that location. When Lucky’s came facing tremendous opposition, they [via Emerald Fund] agreed as a condition on their Conditional Use Permit to put in five stores fronts for five local independents, but Lucky’s [under a holding company American Properties or something like that] made virtually no effort to rent to locals, only considering nail salons, keeping the slots vacant as if no one wanted them, which was not the case. Chase now consumes not one but two of those store fronts that were designated specifically for local businesses. Now yet another landlord is opportunistically killing small businesses to help a big corporation, circumventing the Conditional Use process and neighborhood notification, hearing and neighborhood involvement.

  • pchas

    So, I guess you prefer empty storefronts, David? The sad fact is that local businesses cannot afford to do business because of living wages, mandatory health benefits plus all of the taxes, fees, and permits that the City imposes. Consequently, only national chains can afford to do business here. If you really wanted to help small businesses, David, you would try to reduce the cost of doing business here instead of beating up on companies that actually contribute to the City’s tax base.

  • David Tornheim

    The local businesses the Cheese Shop and Truffle place had been there for many years. I think 10-15 years and were doing fine. Same with Martini’s Cleaner at the corner who moved to another location. The landlord saw an opportunity to make more money at each spot and forced them all out (first Marini’s to put in a Batteries+ chain, now the other two for Chase). Unlike rent control, there is no protection for small businesses from such greed. Landlords frequently triple rent to force out long standing local businesses like these that better serve the community than chains. Haight Street has lost many fine businesses because of this. I don’t think that behavior should be rewarded.

  • Belgand

    I used to use Chase until, well, Monday (they got rid of their free checking) and seriously, this is idiotic. Banks are not “retail” in any traditional sense. I go there because I want to deposit or withdraw money not to shop. As has already been said this isn’t hurting local businesses in any way. It’s not pushing out some small, local bank. Banks thrive only if they have plenty of convenient locations and let’s face it, but for that space going all the way up to Fulton/Masonic is not even remotely close to convenient. I should know, I live near there and that was my primary bank branch until recently. Going all the way to the Castro makes even less sense.

    Seriously, where do you expect banks to have local branches? How ridiculously far apart do you expect them to be? Should we all just use those janky little ATMs and get charged ludicrous service fees to access our money?

    By not having access to banks you also are effectively giving banks a monopoly. If you live in the Haight the only two banks that are even remotely close by are Wells Fargo and Chase and neither of those are really all that close to each other.

  • ColeValleyAlley

    …”mom and pop banks just don’t exist.”

    What?! Really?! San Francisco has several “mom and pop” banks, mostly in the form of Credit Unions (which are non-profit, member-owned institutions):

    – Patelco Credit Union
    – SF Fire Credit Union (VERY highly rated on Yelp, they even refund foreign transaction fees charged by OTHER banks to your account)
    – Golden1 Credit Union
    – San Francisco Federal Credit Union
    – Spectrum Federal Credit Union
    – Mission SF Federal Credit Union
    – SF Police Credit Union

    – Bank of San Francisco

    Why not solicit one of the above institutions to move into the space? I don’t see how another Chase branch benefits anyone but Chase members. Anyone else that wants to use their ATMs will be charged a fee (aside from SF Fire Credit Union Members, who get the fee refunded).

    And as David mentioned, the Cheese Shop and Truffle place were doing fine until they were forced out by the landlords.

  • David Tornheim

    Cole Valley Alley: Thanks for the list of local credit unions.

    Belgand: “By not having access to banks you also are effectively giving banks a monopoly. If you live in the Haight the only two banks that are even remotely close by are Wells Fargo and Chase and neither of those are really all that close to each other.”

    I don’t understand this argument. I don’t think anyone opposing Chase said all bank and all credit unions should be prohibited from the area nor that at most one should be available. You seem to be saying that if any major bank (chain) does not have at least one location every 10 blocks [the nearest Chase is about 10 blocks away], whatever bank(s) is an area would have a monopoly. To me, allowing any single bank to have locations every 10 blocks would saturate the City with them (which is what they want) and encourage that bank to have a monopoly in the City (or oligopoly of a handful of huge banks, e.g. Chase, BofA, Wells Fargo). This is the strategy of Starbucks and Walgreens. Walgreens alone has virtually eliminated all local independent pharmacies, which used to be widespread (including one in the Haight) and dominates the local market.

    The City simply does not have room for every bank and credit union owner (whether huge or local) and every owner of every business type (huge or local) to have locations every 10 blocks. There are limited rental spaces. That’s one of the best reasons not to allow Chase–they already have a nearby presence.

    If you look at other service categories, you will find they have NO PRESENCE. For example, in the upper Haight, there used to be THREE used book stores. Now there are ZERO. How far do you have to go to find a used bookstore? How about new bookstores? We have multiple banks already including a Chase, we could use a bookstore. There are plenty of other businesses we could use. Chase clearly doesn’t need a space and is costing three slots that were formerly held by independent stores.

    -David