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Planning Commission Helping Small Businesses By Fast-Tracking [Updated]

Going through the planning process can be a long, arduous affair for a business. Tales are rampant of simple requests or changes getting hung up in months-long bureaucratic nightmares fit for a Dostoevsky novel.

But help has arrived in the form of an acronym. The Planning Commission on February 12th adopted the CB3P program, which stands for Community Business Priority Processing program. It's the successor to SB4P, the Small Business Priority Processing Pilot Program. (Yes, even Planning Department staff admits to chuckling over these.) "It was designed to streamline our review of more straightforward small business applications," said Daniel A. Sider, senior advisor for special projects for the Planning Department.

At Thursday's Planning Commission meeting, the first three businesses to be fast-tracked under the CB3P program are on the agenda, hoping to be rubber-stamped. That includes a new eatery at 1318 Grant Ave. from the owner of North Beach favorites Mo's Grill and Maykadeh Restaurant. 

Mahmoud Khossoussi has requested a conditional use authorization to turn the roughly 900-square-foot retail space into a limited-use restaurant with no alcohol. A source close to the project said the concept will have the ambiance of a charming, old-fashioned French butcher shop selling gourmet sandwiches. The name, according to the "doing business as," or dba filing, is "DIP." (No telling if that, too, is an acronym, but what sweet irony it would be.)

Khossoussi needs a conditional use authorization because the planning code for the North Beach Neighborhood Commercial District says, "In order to maintain neighborhood-serving retail sales and personal services and to protect residential livability, additional eating and drinking establishments are prohibited in spaces that have been occupied by neighborhood-serving retail sales and personal services." The storefront formerly housed Francesco Rocks Gift Shop, a religious book store and gift shop. The 800-square-foot retail space next door at 1314 Grant Ave. is still for rent, according to a listing on Loopnet.com. 

So who gets a pass? Businesses have to complete an eligibility checklist, fill out an application, submit associated materials and conduct a pre-application meeting. Businesses not eligible for the fast-tracking include bars, adult entertainment, massage parlors, medical cannabis dispensaries, "fringe financial services" and more. If a business qualifies, it's guaranteed a hearing date within 90 days of filing and gets placed on the consent calendar.

That means the restaurant won't have to slog through the piles of red tape that other, more involved projects do. Unless a commissioner or member of the public wants to hear more details, it'll be administratively approved without discussion. Also, the Planning Department drafts a two-page summary and motion instead of dozens of pages laying out the foundation for approval, Sider said. That saves the city and the applicant—who's usually paying rent on a space while waiting for approval—time and money.

"They’re all being heard within 90 days of application," Sider added. "The hope, certainly, is that the program was crafted with enough precision such that these applications and those to come after them are indeed straightforward and non-controversial and supported by the neighborhood and the commission."

Nicholas Foster, the planner for 1318 Grant Ave., said as of Tuesday, he hadn't heard from the public in support or opposition to the project. Because it's a small place with no alcohol, no extended hours and no major changes to the building—not to mention, the application is from an owner of two other established, popular businesses in the area—it was a good candidate that passed the CB3P process. To give input on the project, email nicholas {at} foster {dot} sfgov.org.

Mo's Grill is known for its gourmet hamburgers and other comfort food; it has four stars on Yelp and long lines out the door, particularly for weekend brunch. The long-running Maykadeh, in business more than three decades, also has four stars on Yelp and serves authentic Persian cuisine. 

The other two applications being considered on Thursday's Planning Commission meeting are to establish a restaurant with beer and wine at 1515 Pine St. and to change a use from a limited restaurant to a restaurant at 160 W. Portal Ave. It seems ravenous San Franciscans can't get enough places to eat, no matter the neighborhood.

UPDATE: The Planning Commission approved 5–2 a conditional use authorization for Mahmoud Khossoussi to open a restaurant at 1318 Grant. Ave., next door to Mo's Grill.  

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