Interior store's permit upheld

The City Council gave the OK to a furnishings and interior design store that some complained was not different enough from downtown competitors.

Despite an appeal, the City Council upheld Planning Commission approval of a conditional use permit for Seaside Interiors at 190 Beach St.

The permit requires that 60% of the store's floor displays be one of kind and labeled as such.

"We didn't want to keep her from opening a store, we were just trying to keep the downtown a desirable destination," said Mark Christie, owner of Tuvalu and Hobie Sports on Forest Avenue. "It wasn't a question of competition; it was a question of saturation."

Seaside Interiors owner Gina Marie Harris told the council that no item on her floor could be found in other local stores.

"I made it clear to my vendors that I wanted to be exclusive," Harris said. "I don't want to carry the same things."

The Downtown Specific Plan encourages variety in stores and services to avoid saturation.

Saturation levels are not defined in the plan, except for dessert stores, which are limited to 10.

"It is decided by the Planning Commission case by case, but can be appealed to and overturned by the council," Commissioner Norm Grossman said.

Store owner Angela Marie Tesselaar said the decision had already been made by the time she arrived at the meeting. The item was on the consent calendar and OKd without discussion.

"Perhaps the pressure to fill vacant retail properties is pressing too firmly on your decisions," Tesselaar wrote to the commission.

She named 10 home furnishing/accessory stores with and without design service in the immediate area of Seaside Designs.

"It's over-saturation," she wrote. "The Planning Commission would never allow for 10 sushi restaurants within a half-mile radius — why dilute the home furnishing market?"

Scott Woodard testified on behalf of Harris.

"The free market determines who survives. It seems like there is a private club here. It's not. Sharpen your pencils and do a better job," Woodard advised the appellants.

Mayor Toni Iseman said Harris's shop did have a unique feel, but she disagreed with Woodard's comments.

"Free market loses a lot of shops," Iseman said.

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