The Long Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to eliminate some of the city’s existing exemptions for businesses being granted conditional use permits for alcohol sales, bringing the city more in line with what some neighboring cities offer.
The vote will limit the issuance of CUP exemptions to restaurants with alcoholic beverage service with meals, florists that include alcohol as accessories to flower arrangements and “existing legal nonconforming uses." "Existing legal nonconforming uses" meaning that businesses with existing exemptions won’t be affected by the amendments.
The vote does, however, remove grocery stores from the exemption list, as the definition of that category has begun to blur, with department stores expanding into the grocery selling business.
In March, Director of Development Services Amy Bodek called into question the 20,000 square footage marker for providing the exemption of grocery stores. She also pointed out that companies like Target, while not traditionally a grocery store, also carried groceries and could be exempted under the old model.
“Since that time we have done some research on what other cities have in place for their issuance of conditional use permit exemptions and are suggesting that we come back to you tonight with one change that would not allow us to provide any more exemptions for grocery stores of 20,000 square feet or more,” Bodek said. “That category seemed to provide the most room for interpretation, since there are a number of other retailers out there that may not be classically defined as a grocery store but do carry grocery and home good components.”
The 120-day moratorium on such CUP exemptions was levied by the council at its March 17 meeting earlier this year, leaving only restaurants and grocery stores as the only businesses open to exemptions while city staff carried out its study. In its research, city staff compared Long Beach to other major cities in Southern California including Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Monica.
The study revealed that Long Beach had been more lenient in issuing CUP exemptions, allowing them in instances where the location was 500 feet from a residential zone in addition to granting them to grocery stores over 20,000 square feet while the comparison cities did not or had more restrictive guidelines.
The potential financial impact on the city could be a positive one, as CUP exemptions fees are only $1,000 while the fee for a regular CUPs that require more scrutiny from staff run $8,000. Although the increase of revenue is expected to be small due to the relatively infrequent requests for the CUP exemptions the council voted to do away with, whatever extra money generated will go in the development services fund.
Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson, one of the makers of the original motion in March, said earlier this year that the city needed to take a more holistic approach to the issue. A new approach would hopefully limit potential unintended negative impacts on the surrounding communities where the exemptions had been granted, he said.
Richardson applauded city staff for closing what he had described as “a patchwork of holes” in the CUP process.
“A few months ago we did come with a recommendation to tighten up those exemptions so that major operators would have to go through some process to limit their impact on local neighborhoods,” Richardson said. “I want to say thank you for this and I’ll be urging my colleagues to vote in support of this.”