Hamburger Mary's at the Patio Café

Voting has ended.

Hamburger Mary’s Wins Membership Support

In a groundbreaking outreach for member participation, EVNA conducted an online referendum asking the full membership to cast their votes on whether or not to allow Hamburger Mary’s, a formula retail restaurant, to occupy the space of the former Patio Café at 531 Castro Street.

Membership voted almost 3-1 in support of the move, 110 in favor – 42 opposed. There were 17 votes determined to be invalid, 12 in support and 5 opposed, for reasons such as double votes or non-member votes. There are 252 paying members of EVNA. The member participation rate was a remarkable 60%!

The EVNA Board of Directors would like to thank all those involved in the vetting and voting on this topic.

As outlined below in articles in the May Newsletter by the EVNA PLUC, in the support position by Les Natali and in the oppose position by Gary Weiss, this issue was controversial and contentious. Both the background and the positions were presented clearly and allowed the membership to be well informed about whether or not to support or oppose letting a formula retail occupy a large commercial space in the heart of the Castro.

We want to thank all of those who voiced their opinions about this topic, which helped to further the dialog.

As we move forward and as EVNA continues to grow its membership we look forward to your input on any number of issues that will be facing the neighborhood.

We’ll see you at the next Public EVNA meeting!

Rob Cox
Secretary, EVNA

A Discussion & Evaluation of a Hamburger Mary’s in the Castro

Once a neighborhood institution, the Patio Café at 531 Castro Street closed to the public in 1999. Since then this roughly forty feet of frontage in the heart of the Castro has sat empty.

Last summer it appeared possible that this long-closed but fully renovated property would soon re-open to the public. Property owner Les Natali submitted a Conditional Use application [1] to the planning department to re-open the space as a restaurant. At the time Mr. Natali expressed a desire for the Patio to resume operation as soon as possible. Neighbors expressed concerns over noise from the patio space, and restrictions were attached to the conditional use permit, but ultimately the Planning Commission approved Conditional Use Application No. 2013.0290C[2]. The doors did not open, however, and the space remained empty.

In November 2013 Mr. Natali approached the zoning administrator for an opinion on whether Hamburger Mary’s would fall under formula retail rules and thereby require a conditional use permit to operate at 531 Castro. It was determined that Hamburger Mary’s was indeed formula retail and would need to follow the formula retail conditional use process to operate at 531 Castro.

There are strong opinions in this case, as it sits at the intersection of several issues that have been the subject of much discussion. Broadly speaking, they are the following:

  1. General frustration over empty storefronts and the negative externalities they impose on residents. Although by some measures the Castro’s retail vacancy rate is in-line with that of the broader city, nobody is happy with the experience of walking by vacant retail storefronts day after day.
  2. General debate over the proper role of formula retail in our neighborhood. Some see formula retail as a solution to empty storefronts. Others are concerned that formula retail will drive small business out of the neighborhood, resulting in a loss of neighborhood character.
  3. Specific discussion over whether Hamburger Mary’s should be considered formula retail. It is a chain, but the original (since closed) restaurant opened in SF.
  4. Specific frustration over Patio Café’s closure. For months the space could have opened as a non-formula retail restaurant. After more than a decade, why is the property owner choosing to partner with formula retail after having incurred the expense of building the space out?

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