On Tuesday night, City Council and business owners designed a solution that will let a new business open, despite complaints from other shops in Laguna Beach.
Mark Christy, on behalf of Beach Forest Associates, filed an appeal of the planning commission’s unanimous April 27 vote to let Gina Marie Harris open up a shop, called Seaside Interiors, in a vacant former vitamin store on the corner of Beach Street and Ocean Avenue. Christy, who owns and co-owns designer products store two blocks away, warned in his May 11 appeal of potential saturation and similar/identical uses.
Christy said, “We are not asking her not to open. We know the dynamics of working downtown.”
Trove home décor and variety store owners Bobby and Heather Lee sent a letter with Christy’s appeal listing eight similar shops in a four-block area and expressed concern about cutting the number of buyers at each shop.
In order to assure Council and cautious business owners that her store is different from others, Harris gave the example that “Some of my custom pieces are made from 1960s conveyor belts. To have them tell me you can’t use any particular vendor is absurd. What Tuvalu has is not my look.”
Several council members told applicant Harris and appellant Christy that they had recently been through the stores downtown and had a firm idea of the goods represented in each.
“I’ve been to all the shops,” said Councilmember Jane Egly. “Gina’s has a different feel. Ocean (Avenue) is more vibrant and bubbly.”
Councilmember Elizabeth Pearson, a marketing consultant long familiar with local stores’ competitive issues, suggested that a plan was needed that would not be restrictive, yet prevent saturation.
Pearson suggested that 60 percent of Seaside Interiors' 900 square feet of floor space be set aside for “original design pieces.” Pearson then asked Harris if she were willing to comply with that as well as label which pieces were uniquely her design.
“As a matter of fact,” Harris replied, “if you walked through the store right now, you’d see over 60 percent one-of-a-kind items. I am willing to put labels on one-of-a-kinds.”
Council voted unanimously, 4-0, to let Harris operate with the two provisions added to her conditional use permit. (Councilmember Kelly Boyd had to recuse himself, as he owns a business—the Marine Room Tavern—that's within 500 feet of the planned Seaside Interiors location.)
Afterward, both Mark Christy and his partner in Tuvalu, Laurie Alter, said they were satisfied with the decision.