The increase in outdoor dining during the pandemic has spurred a new effort by local residents: finding a way to change the zoning of some Woodside town parcels to allow for more outdoor community gathering spaces.
Current land use regulations limit two residentially zoned pieces of land adjacent to the Town Center, a town-owned complex along Woodside Road from Whiskey Hill Road to Roberts Market that includes government buildings and commercial businesses, and Canada Corners at the Canada Road intersection (owned by Roberts Market). To overturn these rules, established by ballot measures J and 1 in 1988 and 1989, respectively, residents must submit a petition to the town for a ballot measure to reach voters.
The measure would allow the property behind Canada Corners to be outfitted with surface parking to accommodate permanent outdoor dining, trails and play structures, all of which are now prohibited. It would also allow for the possible construction of a public building — amphitheater or gazebo — for community events in the residentially zoned Town Center area.
"We don't have a community center (in Woodside)," said Alex Tauber, who has lived in town for about 11 years and helped formalize the effort in February. "COVID brought the idea of, 'How do we get together in an open environment that's safe? How do we create permanent open spaces?' It should be the town's option depending on how citizens feel — to not be constrained by the zoning code."
So far, Peter Bailey, a Woodside Elementary School Board member, and Tauber have gathered about 400 of the 428 valid signatures needed to qualify the measure to be placed on a ballot, Tauber said. They're hoping to finish gathering signatures, which must come from at least 10% of Woodside's 4,277 registered voters
per California law, in the coming weeks. They are aiming to gather 800 signatures. It's been more difficult to canvas during a pandemic, so local restaurants have agreed to put the petitions up for diners to sign.
"We don't have a lot of restaurants or retailers in Woodside," Tauber said. "COVID has affected the few restaurants we have for the worst. One of the things it's done is brought home the notion of doing things outdoors. ... I don't think anybody will be able to invest in outdoor dining or a community center if it's not (able to be) permanent."
Dylan MacNiven, one of the brothers who manages Buck's, located at 3062 Woodside Road, said he supports the petition and that the family's restaurant suffered at the start of the pandemic. Buck's closed from mid-March until July 2020. Business has picked up again and they are looking to hire wait staff, and he said outdoor dining has been "instrumental" to its survival.
"It would be a way to keep an outdoor dining component in the center of town — it would be a really great thing for the community," he said. "A longer-term approval would help us build a real (outdoor) infrastructure. We could build a true trash enclosure and maybe have something more comfortable than just asphalt, like AstroTurf or tanbark. We have a temporary outdoor pizza oven; we could see that as something more permanent and built-in."
In June, the business received a $392,065 Paycheck Protection Program loan to keep the restaurant afloat, according to ProPublica.
Roberts Market president Christine Roberts said the grocer would love for the zoning of the Canada Corner parcel to change.
"We are in desperate need for some more parking for the shopping center and the grocery store," she said. She noted there are only about 40 parking spots for the store and nearby restaurants. "Over the years our business has grown. We have more employees in the grocery store and of course the restaurants have gotten more popular and everyone needs parking for employees and the customers."
Nat Medina, manager of Firehouse Bistro, located at 2991 Woodside Road, said he is "on board with the petition" and signed it since more outdoor space would increase business. In August, the Woodside Town Council allowed the owners of Firehouse Bistro to create additional outdoor seating for diners by exploring a "soft closure," using a chain to block vehicles, with the idea that the chain could easily be removed by fire or other emergency personnel needing access. Dining areas would still be protected by solid barriers, but arranged in a way that allows emergency vehicles to get through.
Karey Walker, a spokesperson for San Francisco-based Bacchus Management Group, the owner and operator of The Village Bakery, said in an email that the restaurant supports the petition.
"As an added bonus, the effort will help improve the overcrowded parking situation," she noted. "It was important to us that the plan did not impact the local horse trails, which are central to the community spirit of Woodside. And even more importantly, the improved parking will be privately funded by the Roberts family, and not cost residents any money."
Measure J, approved by the voters in 1988, did two things. It prohibited development of commercial or office space on a then vacant, town-owned parcel near where Town Hall is now located. Second, it required residential properties within and adjoining Town Center to remain in residential use unless commercial parking on those properties had been permitted prior to June 1, 1988.
Measure 1, approved by voters the following year, created an exception to Measure J's requirement that residential parcels in Town Center remain in residential use. Upon its approval by the voters, residentially zoned parcels in the Woodside Road Whiskey Hill Road Parking Assessment District were authorized to be improved to provide access, parking and open space — as shown in the 1989 Town Center site plan — so long as at least 50% of the residential parcels were maintained in open space. Approval of Measure 1 allowed the town to construct Town Hall parking and access improvements which now serve Town Hall, commercial businesses in the Town Center and the public.
There have been no further amendments to these land use regulations in the Town Center since 1989, according to the town.
Conditional use permits would be required prior to making any changes to these parcels.
If an initiative is approved by voters, it could only be modified or repealed in the future by a majority vote of Woodside voters.
For more on the initiative, go here.