51 Moraga Way, one of Orinda’s most attractive commercial buildings, sits in a prime location next to Peet’s Coffee and front and center in the always-busy Crossroads/Theater district. For years the ground floor space was occupied by real estate offices, most recently Better Homes and Garden Real Estate. Better Homes left in 2013, and their ground floor space sat empty for 1-1/2 years before another real estate firm relocated from Theater Square.
Most visitors to Orinda’s Downtown probably noticed this in an off-handed way and moved on. We did. But What’s Up Downtown recently learned that this particular space is what the city code refers to as Type 1 space: "a retail floor of a building that faces or abuts a street" (17.8.5). Retail and restaurants are allowed in Type 1 space, real estate offices are not allowed. Further review of Orinda’s Municipal Code (Section 17.19) clearly states that a real estate office in a Type 1 space is "non-conforming", and if abandoned may not be reestablished. (17.19.5).
So, what happened? This prime retail space sits vacant for over a year and in comes another non-conforming business. How did this happen without a formal approval process? We checked with the City of Orinda and their documentation on this seems flimsy at best, and still they Ok’d it. Essentially this issue hinges on what constitutes abandonment.
We see this as a huge missed opportunity for Orinda. What if that charming storefront housed toys, clothes, housewares, or something for foodies like a bakery or a salad and sandwich shop? There are other non-conforming businesses in Orinda, what happens when they move out? Has a precedent been set?
If the City is not going to enforce its own codes, no wonder residents are frustrated with a lack of attention to the Downtown. Please call on City Council members and the Planning Department to ask why this was not enforced and how they plan to do better in the future. Please also share this story with your friends and neighbors, and if you haven't already, stay informed on What’s Up Downtown by signing up for more from us.