Real estate offices reshuffle downtown
The economic slowdown has caused two visible real estate businesses to vacate two lower Broad Street store fronts in Nevada City, including Realtor Susan Sotelo, who fought hard against the city for her space three years ago.
The vacancies have rekindled a debate about city restrictions of ground floor office space, which were questioned at the time.
“Business just wasn’t that great,” said Sotelo, who co-owns the building at 220 Broad Street that now has a “for rent” sign hanging in the window. She’s now up the street instead.
Across lower Broad Street, Taylor Drake Furniture is now operating in a building previously occupied by Network Real Estate.
Times have changed. Three years ago, real estate was booming and in an effort to preserve the feel of the tourist town and retain a critical mass of retail shops, the city declared a freeze on ground floor office space.
Not everyone agreed with the ordinance, arguing the market would mend itself through attrition. Sotelo became a lightning rod for the dispute after the city considered shutting her office down, because it opened at nearly the same time the moratorium was issued.
Sotelo said relocating up the hill to Realty Executives was hard in light of her history battling the city.
“That’s why it’s important for me to keep it as an office,” Sotelo said.
A lawyer who is a friend has shown interest in the office space, though Sotelo admits she has considered switching the space back to retail. She co-owns the building with Mine Shaft owner Bryce Lee.
National Hotel owner Tom Coleman said he decided to rent to the furniture store after Network Real Estate vacated the space across the street. Coleman said the deal was “fast and convenient,” and the market for office space had dissolved.
He also thinks the city made a mistake by issuing the ordinance. “When the government tries to meddle with economics they just screw it up royally,” Coleman said. Without the moratorium the market would have taken care of itself, he said.
Now the city is making it more difficult for future non-tourism businesses to offer basic necessities, Coleman said.
Others agreed that the market would have corrected itself.
“They’re going to weed themselves out,” said Jane Moran of Nevada County Properties. “I think the city got overly worried about it.”
Despite some concerns, making the switch to retail doesn’t mean ground floor office space is lost forever, said the city’s planner Cindy Siegfried.
Requests for office space are heard on a case by case basis at a public hearing by the city’s planning commission, Siegfried said.
“It just allows for a more detailed review,” Siegfried said.
A deal for the DA’s office to rent space at 110 Union Street downtown includes the use of office space on the ground floor, but retail outlets will be at the front. No retail deals have been announced, however.
In 2005, planning commissioners were split on the issue.
As then-planning commissioner Lauri Oberholtzer said at a hearing in December 2005: “Our residents want a real town, and sometimes you have to regulate uses when you have a successful downtown.”
Sheila Stein disagreed. “I didn’t think an ordinance passed was the solution,” she said at the time. “I think as real estate ebbs and flows (it will change). I am not for this.”
To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail lbrown@the union.com or call 477-4231.
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