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Council Update: Homes and Parties

By Jorge Casuso

Dec. 12 -- The City Council Tuesday night approved measures to protect prospective property buyers from being saddled with unexpected restrictions and add a world-class venue for private parties.

Under a new ordinance approved unanimously by the council, real estate agents or owners must notify potential buyers if a house or commercial property is historic. Property sellers must also file a document with the City.

The ordinance covers structures that have been designated as a landmark, structure of merit, contributor to an historic district or identified in the Historic Resources Inventory.

"This proposal is patterned after agent/owner disclosure requirements of state law, although state law, in some instances, more narrowly defines the range of properties subject to disclosure requirements," according to the staff report.

"Specifically, the proposed ordinance would apply to commercial and residential property. Many state disclosure requirements apply only to smaller residential properties," the report concluded.

The council approved the ordinance with no discussion after hearing testimony from two supporters.

In a separate action, the council voted 5 to 1 to allow Chinois on Main Street to expand and open a 48-seat dining room for private parties next door. Nearly two dozen speakers, including owner Wolfgang Puck, turned out in support.

Puck, who flew in from New York to testify, said his restaurant could no longer accommodate the customers who flock to what has become an international destination.

"I think we thought we were going to build a little neighborhood restaurant only, and it became a restaurant known all over the world," Puck said.

To pave the way for the expansion, the council passed a law that allows existing restaurants on Main Street to add private dining rooms "under specific circumstances" with a Conditional Use Permit.

Without the CUP, Chinois would not be able to expand, because it would be considered a new restaurant on a block that already has more restaurants than are permitted by the standards for the area.

The private dining room will replace two retail/office spaces next door, but there will no physical connection with the restaurant, which was opened by the world-renowned chef more than two decades ago.

"Without the proposed ordinance, the applicant would be unable to provide a private dining facility for its patrons since there is no room to expand on its present site," according to the staff report.

Councilman Michael Feinstein cast the sole opposing vote, saying the ordinance amounted to "spot zoning for an individual business."

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