Faced with high storefront vacancy rates — and a demand for more COVID testing sites — city staff Wednesday night will ask the Land Use Commission to recommend easing restrictions on using ground floor spaces for office uses.
In a memo to the commission, Community Development Director Johanna Nyden says that since December the city has received more than two-dozen requests to open COVID-19 testing sites.
Demand for the tests is expected to be high in coming months as more agencies and businesses require regular testing.
The test sites are considered medical offices and, under the city’s zoning code, medical offices require more parking than other office uses — parking that frequently isn’t available in many business districts other than downtown.
So, Nyden wants to eliminate the extra parking requirement for medical offices.
She also is proposing that the city switch from requiring special use approval for such requests — a process that typically takes three to four months — to permitting administrative approval of the proposals by city staff, a process she says can be completed in two to three weeks.
She adds that where staff determined it was necessary, it could still impose special conditions — including parking regulations — on the approval.
The city started using the administrative review process for some other types of businesses last May, and Nyden says about two dozen businesses have been approved so far using that process.
Ground floor offices are currently permitted uses in some zoning districts — and Nyden wants to tighten the rules in some of those districts to require applicants to go through the administrative approval process.
Whatever approach the Land Use Commission recommends, the ultimate decision on the proposed changes will be up to the City Council.